North Korea says it has nuclear weapons
Pyongyang pulling out of 6-nation disarmament talks

The Associated Press

Updated: 7:28 a.m. ET Feb. 10, 2005 SEOUL, South Korea - North Korea 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 weapons 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, 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.

Like most North Korean statements, the claim could not be independently verified. North Korea expelled the last U.N. nuclear monitors in late 2002 and has never tested a nuclear bomb, though international officials have said for years the country is believed to have one or two nuclear bombs and enough fuel for several more.

Rice: No U.S. plans for war

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the North shouldn't worry about any U.S. plans for invasion.

"The North Koreans have no reason to believe that anyone wants to attack them," she told the Netherlands' RTL TV in an interview while on a trip through Europe. "They have been told they can have multilateral security assurances if they will make the important decision to give up their nuclear weapons program."

Previously, North Korea reportedly told U.S. negotiators in private talks that it had nuclear weapons and might test one of them. The North's 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. Those rods contained enough plutonium for several bombs.

North critical of 'hostile' U.S. policy
But Thursday's statement was North Korea's first public acknowledgment that it has nuclear weapons.

North Korea's "nuclear weapons will remain (a) nuclear deterrent for self-defense under any circumstances," the ministry said, adding that Washington's alleged attempt to topple Pyongyang's regime "compels us to take a measure to bolster its nuclear weapons arsenal in order to protect the ideology, system, freedom and democracy chosen by its people."

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. 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 decided not to rejoin such talks any time soon after carefully studying Bush's inaugural and State of the Union speeches and recent comments by Rice, who labeled North Korea one of the "outposts of tyranny."

Senior U.S. officials "have declared it as their final goal to terminate the tyranny, defined the DPRK, too, as an 'outpost of tyranny' and blustered that they would not rule out the use of force when necessary," the North said. "This deprived the DPRK of any justification to participate in the six-party talks."

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 Japan, the top government spokesman said he wanted to confirm Pyongyang's intentions.

"They have used this sort of phrasing every so often. They didn't say anything particularly new," Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda told a regular news conference.

For months, North Korea has lashed out at what it calls U.S. attempts to demolish the totalitarian regime of leader Kim Jong Il and meddle in the human rights situation in the North. Washington has said it wants to resolve the nuclear talks through dialogue.

Bush tones down rhetoric

In his Jan. 20 inaugural speech, Bush vowed that his new administration would not shrink from "the great objective of ending tyranny" around the globe.

In his State of the Union address earlier this month, Bush only mentioned North Korea in one sentence, 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 three years ago, when he branded North Korea part of an "axis of evil" with Iran and Iraq, raising hopes of a positive response from North Korea.

The nuclear crisis erupted in October 2002 when U.S. officials accused North Korea of running a secrete uranium-enrichment program in violation of international treaties. Washington and its allies cut off free fuel oil shipments for the impoverished country under a 1994 deal with the United States.

North Korea retaliated by quitting the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in early 2003 and restarting its plutonium-based nuclear weapons program, which had been frozen under the 1994 agreement.

2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.