Heated debate within US President George W. Bush's administration on how to deal with North Korea must lead to one inevitable decision - the reopening of talks. Washington sees such an approach as playing into Pyongyang's hands, but the other options - diplomatic isolation, sanctions or war - are simply not viable alternatives when nuclear weapons are involved. The US has steadfastly refused North Korea's demands for negotiations and insisted it must first scrap its nuclear weapons. The North's forcing out of nuclear monitors and insistence on restarting its reactor reveals the flaw in the strategy. This was a big mistake, said Daniel Pinkston, senior research associate and Korea specialist at the Centre for Non-proliferation Studies in Monterey, California. 'The actions that the US and the international community would take - deterrents, containments, military action, an economic embargo, a blockade - would be more successful with regional and allied support,' he said. 'There will be more multilateral co-operation if the US can demonstrate it has exhausted every diplomatic means available to reach a negotiated settlement and it failed.' North Korea is believed to have enough plutonium for one or two bombs. Material from fuel rods used in its reactor could make another five or six, and they could be produced within months. The danger was acute, said Jon Wolfsthal, the deputy director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's non-proliferation project. 'Not only would they be able to use this for themselves, but they'd be able and maybe willing to sell it to other countries,' he said. 'You wouldn't be able to predict where the next nuclear threat would come from and that's an unacceptable situation.' Iraq was an equal threat, but different approaches were needed. Mr Wolfsthal said the threat of war was a useful tool in dealing with Iraq because it had spurred President Saddam Hussein to co-operate on allowing inspections for weapons of mass destruction. But military action was not an option with North Korea. 'It's unattractive and simply unacceptable,' he said. 'A second Korean war would be a disaster for the region and for US credibility and security worldwide.' North Korea wants the US to treat it as an equal. It knows reunification of the Korean peninsula is its only chance to move forwards, yet does not want to go the way of East Germany. Experts agree that the US is the only nation capable of striking a deal under which Kim Jong-il's regime can survive. But it is also at the heart of North Korea's security concerns. With 37,000 troops in South Korea and another 40,000 military service people in Japan, the US has a far bigger role to play in resolving the issue that any of North Korea's neighbours and allies. Dr Pinkston said security, and not economic assistance or food aid, were the key to Pyongyang restarting its nuclear reactors. 'The decision-makers are only considering their security,' he said. 'Their security threat perception is coming from the US and is a bilateral issue that can only be resolved by talking to Washington. They've made this clear again and again.'