GWEN IFILL: As tensions continued to climb on the Korean Peninsula, Bush administration officials set out this weekend to lower the temperature. Appearing on five weekend talk shows, Secretary of State Colin Powell responded to questions about North Korea's apparent nuclear buildup. And in each case, he refused to label the increased nuclear threat as a crisis.
COLIN POWELL: It's a very serious situation, we're taking it seriously, but it's important to put it in perspective. Nobody's alerting forces. It's a serious problem and we're deeply engaged in trying to do something about it. I think it is grave, but I don't want to create a sense of crisis or that we're on the brink of war, because I don't believe we are.
GWEN IFILL: Powell stressed diplomacy and economic isolation over military force.
JOHN ROBERTS, Chief White House Correspondent: (Face the Nation) The administration has been very careful not to characterize the North Korean situation as a crisis, yet here we have a country and a leader who possesses at least two nuclear weapons. He's restarted a plutonium extraction plant. He's threatening to restart a reactor that produce plutonium. He has threatened his neighbors in the past. How is this not a crisis?
COLIN POWELL: It's not a crisis because I believe there are still diplomatic tools that we can use to deal with it, and because nobody is mobilizing armies, nobody is threatening each other yet. We are involved in a very serious situation-- some have called it a crisis, I think it's a serious situation-- and what we're trying to do is control it. And we're going to control it, I think, by working with our friends and allies in the region, bringing international pressure to bear. North Korea is already paying a price for its misbehavior.
JOHN ROBERTS: I need to ask you this question. In 1994, the Clinton administration nearly went to war over a very, very similar issue. Why is military action an option that's off the table?
COLIN POWELL: Military action is never off the table in the sense that it is not an option. The President has every option available to him. We just don't think the circumstances at this time require us to point a gun at someone's head. We believe that we can mobilize the international community.
GWEN IFILL: Powell confirmed that assistant Secretary of State James Kelly will go to South Korea next month to talk to U.S. allies. The U.S., he said is looking for ways to engage directly with North Korea.
COLIN POWELL: We have channels open. We have ways of communicating with the North Koreans. They know how to contact us. We have our friends who also have contacts with the North Koreans. But what we can't do... what we cannot do at this point is having misbehaved with respect to this new facility, and now further violation of their international agreements what they are doing at Yongbyon, we cannot suddenly say, "gee, we are so scared. Let's have a negotiation, because we want to appease your misbehavior." This kind of action, this kind of behavior cannot be rewarded. So we are looking for ways to communicate with the North Koreans so there's some sense can prevail.
GWEN IFILL: While North Korea insisted it was being pushed toward the brink of war, Kim Dae-Jung, the outgoing president of South Korea, also urged diplomacy. Isolating North Korea, he said, would not solve the problem. And North Korea received rare criticism today from a Cold War ally, as Russia denounced Kim Il Jong's regime for reactivating its nuclear program.