Only months after invading Iraq in 2003, the U.S. warned North Korea that it had designated the overseas transfer of nuclear materials as a "red line" that could warrant the use of force against the communist country, a former U.S. envoy on North Korea said.
In an interview with Japan's Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, Charles Pritchard, former U.S. State Department special envoy for negotiations with North Korea, said he had conveyed this position to North Korea through diplomatic channels in New York in August 2003, and that the communist regime had accepted it as credible U.S. policy. Pritchard was serving in the capacity of special envoy at the time.
Pritchard warned North Korean officials that immediate measures would be taken if Pyongyang transferred nuclear materials to other countries, crossing the red line.
It was the first time anyone has gone on record as saying that the U.S. had informed the North of a nuclear threshold over which it must not pass, Yomiuri said on Dec. 23.
The Bush administration last year drew a "red line" beyond which North Korea would not be allowed to expand its arsenals. Previously it had refrained from setting such a "red line," apparently out of concern that it might provoke North Korea to escalate its nuclear activities.
The previous Clinton administration had declared reprocessing spent nuclear fuel a "red line" North Korea should not cross, according to diplomats in Seoul.
U.S. officials have not specified what type of action the U.S. might take if North Korea crossed the line, but the Japanese newspaper said a military strike could not be ruled out.