Two leading U.S. officials say Washington does not believe a recent explosion in North Korea was nuclear. South Korean reports say the explosion caused a large mushroom-shaped cloud in North Korea's Yanggang province, near the Chinese border.
Secretary of State Colin Powell told the ABC television program "This Week" Washington does not believe North Korea has conducted a nuclear test.
He said, "We have no indication that was a nuclear event of any kind. Exactly what it was, we are not sure."
He added, though, that U.S. authorities are closely monitoring reports of increased activity at a potential North Korean nuclear-test site.
He said, "There have been some activities taking place at some sites that we are watching carefully. But it is not conclusive that they are moving toward a test or they're just doing some maintenance at that site. It is not conclusive."
South Korean officials say they are now trying to confirm whether an explosion occurred. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice put forth one theory for the recent cloud over North Korea, on CNN's "Late Edition."
She said, "There are all kinds of assessments that are going on. Maybe it was a fire of some kind, a forest fire of some kind. But we do not believe at this point that it was a nuclear event."
Ms. Rice says the United States retains the option of using military force against North Korea because of its nuclear-weapons program. But she says President Bush is committed to pursuing a diplomatic solution to the North Korean nuclear crisis, through multilateral talks that also include South Korea, China, Japan and Russia.
She said, "If the North Koreans were to test, and so far, we do not know if they are planning to, but if they were, they would simply isolate themselves further. The international community has spoken with one voice about it, and most importantly, the United States is no longer, as it was with the Agreed Framework in 1994, in a bilateral agreement with the North Koreans. This is a six-party arrangement, in which North Korea's neighbors are saying that North Korea must abandon its nuclear-weapons programs."
Speaking on the NBC television program "Meet the Press," former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said when the Clinton administration left office in 2000, it felt North Korea was - in her words - "the most dangerous place to deal with."
She blamed the Bush administration for not taking adequate action to deal with the North Korean nuclear threat.
She said, "And I also think they (North Korea) get the wrong message out of Iraq. You know, we (the US) invade countries that do not have nuclear weapons and we do not invade those that do. We did not invade the Soviet Union and China, so why not build up nuclear weapons as quickly as possible?"
Meanwhile, Senate Intelligence Committee chairman, Pat Roberts, acknowledged to CNN that other countries may question the credibility of U.S. intelligence, in the wake of the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
But Senator Roberts added that in discussions about North Korea on a recent visit to Beijing, Chinese officials raised no concerns to him about U.S. intelligence information.