North Korea admits having nuclear weapons A South Korean soldier patrols Thursday in Paju, near the demilitarized zone north of Seoul. Lee Jin-man/AP Photo: Lee Jin-man/AP A South Korean soldier patrols Thursday in Paju, near the demilitarized zone north of Seoul. Associated Press E-mail this Article E-mail this Article Print this Article Print this Article Advertisement In depth North Korea
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Seoul — North Korea on Thursday announced publicly 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 U.S. President George W. 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 ,” the North Korean Foreign Ministry said in a statement carried by the state-run Korean Central News Agency.
The claim could not be independently verified. North Korea expelled the last UN nuclear monitors in late 2002 and has never tested a nuclear bomb, although international officials have long suspected it has one or two nuclear bombs and enough fuel for several more.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Washington would consult allies before responding.
“I think we just have to first look at the statement and then we need to talk with our allies,” she told Dutch RTL television while on a trip through Europe.
“The North Koreans have no reason to believe that anyone wants to attack them,” she added. “They have been told they can have multilateral security assurances if they will make the important decision to give up their nuclear weapons program. So there is really no reason for this, but we will examine where we go next.”
Previously, North Korea had reportedly told U.S. negotiators in private talks that it had nuclear weapons and might test one of them. The North's UN envoy said 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.
But Thursday's statement was North Korea's first public acknowledgment that it has nuclear weapons.
North Korea's “nuclear weapons will remain nuclear deterrent for self-defence under any circumstances,” the ministry said. It said that what it considers Washington's attempts to topple the North'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 cancelled 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 Mr. 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 studying Mr. Bush's inaugural and State of the Union speeches and after Ms. Rice labelled North Korea one of the “outposts of tyranny.”
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 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.