SEOUL, South Korea - North Korea (news - web sites) on Thursday announced for
the first time that it has nuclear weapons and rejected moves to restart disarmament
talks any time soon, saying it needs the armaments as protection against an
increasingly hostile United States.
The communist state's pronouncement dramatically raised the stakes in the two-year-old
nuclear confrontation and posed a grave challenge to President Bush (news -
web sites), who started his second term with a vow to end North Korea's nuclear
program through six-nation talks.
"We ... have manufactured nukes for self-defense to cope with the Bush
administration's ever more undisguised policy to isolate and stifle the (North),"
the North Korean Foreign Ministry said in a statement carried by the state-run
Korean Central News Agency.
Previously, North Korea reportedly told U.S. negotiators in private talks that
it had nuclear weapons and might test one of them. Its U.N. envoy told The Associated
Press last year that the country had "weaponized" plutonium from its
pool of 8,000 nuclear spent fuel rods.
But Thursday's statement was North Korea's first public acknowledgment that
it has nuclear weapons. North Korea makes all important statements in the name
of its Foreign Ministry spokesman and spreads them through KCNA, the isolated
state's main news outlet.
North Korea's "nuclear weapons will remain (a) nuclear deterrent for self-defense
under any circumstances," the ministry said. "The present reality
proves that only powerful strength can protect justice and truth."
Since 2003, the United States, the two Koreas, China, Japan and Russia have
held three rounds of talks in Beijing aimed at persuading the North to abandon
nuclear weapons development in return for economic and diplomatic rewards. But
no significant progress has been made.
A fourth round scheduled for last September was canceled when North Korea refused
to attend, citing what it called a "hostile" U.S. policy.
In recent weeks, hopes had risen that North Korea might return to the six-nation
talks, especially after Bush refrained from any direct criticism of North Korea
when he started his second term last month.
On Thursday, North Korea said it had no intention to rejoin such talks any time
"We have wanted the six-party talks but we are compelled to suspend our
participation in the talks for an indefinite period till we have recognized
that there is justification for us to attend the talks," the North said.
North Korea said it made the decision because "the U.S. disclosed its attempt
to topple the political system in (North Korea) at any cost, threatening it
with a nuclear stick."
Still, North Korea said it retained its "principled stand to solve the
issue through dialogue and negotiations and its ultimate goal to denuclearize
the Korean Peninsula remain unchanged."
Such a comment has widely been interpreted as North Korea's negotiating tactic
to get more economic and diplomatic concessions from the United States before
joining any crucial talks.
In his State of the Union address earlier this month, Bush only briefly mentioned
North Korea, saying Washington was "working closely with governments in
Asia to convince North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions."
Bush's tone was in stark contrast to his speech three years ago, when he branded
North Korea part of an "axis of evil" with Iran and Iraq (news - web
The nuclear crisis erupted in October 2002 when U.S. officials accused North
Korea of running a secret uranium-enrichment program in violation of international
treaties. Washington and its allies cut off free fuel oil shipments for the
North Korea retaliated by quitting the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in early
2003 and restarting its plutonium-based nuclear weapons program. Its plutonium
facilities had been frozen in return for oil shipments and other benefits under
a 1994 deal with Washington.
The North had also claimed that it completed reprocessing 8,000 spent fuel
rods previously unloaded from its 5-megawatt reactor and kept under U.N. seals
under the 1994 deal. The reprocessing could yield enough plutonium for several
The North has also reloaded the 5-megawatt reactor, which can generate more
spent fuel laden with plutonium.