N. Korea defies Seoul call to halt N-buildup

The Strait Times

28 April 2003
Pyongyang says it will not do so unless it gets a non-aggression pact with US. It also refuses to confirm whether it has nuclear weapons

SEOUL - South Korea yesterday demanded that North Korea abandon its nuclear weapons programmes, if it has any, amid heightened tensions over the communist state's reported admission that it has atomic bombs.

But Pyongyang said it would not do so unless it gets a non-aggression treaty with Washington.

US officials said North Korea told a senior US envoy during talks in Beijing last week that it had reprocessed spent nuclear fuel rods - a key step in producing nuclear weapons. The claim is not backed up by US intelligence, officials say.

During a 100-minute talk yesterday, North Korean negotiators did not respond to South Korean officials' demand for a confirmation of the weapons claim.

Instead they reiterated that North Korea had made a 'new, bold' proposal to the US during the Beijing talks, said South Korean spokesman Shin Eun Sang.

In Tokyo, US Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly, who represented the US at the Beijing talks, told Japanese officials on Saturday that Washington was examining the North's new proposal.

In a commentary carried by North Korean radio, Pyongyang's official daily Rodong Sinmun reiterated warnings that the North could 'do everything to defend itself' unless the US agreed to a non-aggression treaty.

Washington has ruled out such a treaty, but said that it would consider some sort of written assurance that it would not invade.

During yesterday's talks, North Korea tried to discuss linking cross-border railways and other economic projects with South Korea, while the South focused on the nuclear issue, the South Korean spokesman said.

US officials said they would take a 'good, hard look' at the North's claim to separate 'bluster' from reality, stressing they still favoured a diplomatic end to the crisis.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, during talks with British counterpart Tony Blair, called for a calm response.

He stressed that North Korea's sometimes bellicose public utterances should not always be taken at face value, a Japanese official said.

Analysts say the North's reported admission that it has nuclear weapons will have little impact on international resolve to settle the crisis through peaceful, diplomatic means.

Though no new talks are planned, Washington has said it will push for the inclusion of Japan and South Korea in the multilateral forum. Mr Koizumi and South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun are planning separate trips to the US next month.

A White House spokesman said Mr Bush spoke by telephone on Saturday with Chinese President Hu Jintao about the standoff.

He thanked Mr Hu for the Chinese government's 'full and active participation' in the trilateral talks in Beijing last week. --

AP, AFP, Korea Herald/ Asia News Network