North Korea Declares Itself a Nuclear Power, Withdraws From Talks
The North Korean Foreign Ministry said in a statement carried by the state-run Korean Central News Agency, ”We … have manufactured nukes for self-defense to cope with the Bush administration’s evermore undisguised policy to isolate and stifle the (North).”
The statement went on to allege the United States continues to work for the collapse of the government of Kim Jong-Il and that American effort “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.”
Traveling in Europe, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters the announcement from the North did not represent a major shift in the ongoing diplomatic effort to disarm the communist nation since American officials had assumed since the mid-1990s that the country was capable of creating a nuclear weapon.
Rice also dismissed the North Korean accusation that America wanted to oust the government.
“The North Koreans have been told by the president of the United States that the United States has no intention of attacking or invading North Korea,” Rice said in Luxembourg. “There is a path for the North Koreans that would put them in a more reasonable relationship with the rest of the world.”
But in Pyongyang, the foreign ministry said the United States had made it impossible for the negotiations that included the two sides as well as China, Russia, South Korea and Japan to continue.
“The Bush administration termed the DPRK [Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea -- North Korea], its dialogue partner, an outpost of tyranny,” the ministry said.
“This deprived the DPRK of any justification to participate in the six-party talks,” it said.
Rice said in an interview on Dutch RTL TV that the North Korean leaders “are only deepening their isolation because everyone in the international community, and most especially North Korea’s neighbors, have been very clear that there needs to be no nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula in order to maintain stability in the region.”
In the United States, officials attempted to downplay the North Korean statements. White House spokesman Scott McClellan said, “We’ve heard this kind of rhetoric from North Korea before.”
Some diplomats agreed, adding the North Korean announcements were an effort by the reclusive state to increase diplomatic pressure on the United States.
“After its previous claims had failed to draw enough attention, North Korea now seeks to make people take it more seriously, create an atmosphere of crisis and make its negotiating partners pay more in order to persuade it to give up its nuclear capabilities,” a senior South Korean official told the Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
But international leaders reiterated a need for the standoff to be defused diplomatically.
“I expect that with efforts by other countries, North Korea could be brought back to the table. I would urge them (other countries) to engage North Korea,” U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan told reporters in London after meeting British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.
McClellan said the United States would continue to focus on diplomatic efforts.
“We remain committed to the six-party talks. We remain committed to a peaceful, diplomatic resolution to the nuclear issue with regards to North Korea,” McClellan said.
The Russian and Chinese governments, two of the critical partners in efforts to pressure the North Koreans into talks, also pledged support for further negotiations.
“We hope the talks can be continued,” the official Xinhua news agency quoted spokesman Kong Quan as saying.
Britain’s government took a harder line with junior Foreign Office Minister Bill Rammell saying in a statement, “We deplore North Korea’s refusal to negotiate on an issue, the resolution of which would bring so much benefit to the people of that country.
“We call on the government of North Korea to review its decision and re-engage in discussions with the international community.”
The stalemate between the two countries has entered its second year. The dispute erupted after the United States confronted the North Korean government with evidence of a secret uranium enrichment program in October 2002. Reportedly the North admitted its efforts, in violation of a 1994 deal that traded a freeze in the North nuclear military program in exchange for civilian nuclear reactors.
Lately, the Pyongyang government has denied having a uranium project, but did withdraw from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and forced out international inspectors.
Since 2003, the six parties have met for three separate rounds of talks aimed at defusing the crisis. A fourth round scheduled for September 2004 was canceled when North Korea refused to attend, citing what it called a “hostile” U.S. policy.