North Korea Vows 'Legitimate Defence' After US Hits Iraq

MOSCOW (AFP) - The US-led attack on Iraq has forced North Korea to mount a "legitimate defence" against possible US aggression, the North Korean foreign ministry said in statement issued Monday by Pyongyang's embassy here.

"The use of force against Iraq, as well as the military preparations by the United States and its satellites in the Korean peninsula have made us understand clearly that we must do everything for our legitimate defence," said the statement quoted by Russian news agencies.

The invasion of Iraq by US, British and Australian forces is "a serious attack on this country's sovereignty" and "threatens peace and security not only in the region but in the entire world," the statement said.

UN special envoy to North Korea Maurice Strong has urged Washington and Pyongyang to hold talks as soon as possible, saying he sensed concern from Pyongyang that North Korea could be the next target of US military action.

North Korea wants direct talks with Washington to end their nuclear stand-off, demanding a non-aggression pact as a precondition. Washington has ruled out one-one-one talks until North Korea dismantles its nuclear programs.

The crisis erupted in October after the United States accused North Korea of running a secret uranium-enrichment program and later cut off fuel aid to the energy-starved regime.

The North has since ramped up pressure on Washington to return to talks by expelling UN inspectors, firing up a mothballed nuclear reactor and withdrawing from the Non-Proliferation Treaty