China, U.S. need new strategies to deal with a nuclear N. Korea

Declaration on weapons raises pressure for talks

February 11, 2005|By Gady A. Epstein | Gady A. Epstein,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

BEIJING - North Korea's declaration yesterday that it had "manufactured nuclear weapons" put pressure on the Bush administration and North Korea's neighbors, including its ally China, to change strategies for containing a regime the United States already considered a dangerous exporter of weapons and technology.

North Korea had previously declared that it was intent on developing what it called a "nuclear deterrent." But its official statement yesterday went further by asserting that it now had nuclear weapons on hand.

Its declaration was characteristic in its shock value and calculated timing. North Korea rejected further participation in six-nation talks about its nuclear program and said it needed nuclear arms as a deterrent against U.S. aggression.

The North has long been suspected of have nuclear weapons and has long targeted Washington with aggressive rhetoric. But its latest assertion came against the backdrop of new suspicions about North Korea supplying nuclear materials to other countries and a renewed push by the United States to persuade China to take a harder line with the North.

"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 government said via its official Korean Central News Agency. "We are compelled to suspend our participation in the talks for an indefinite period."

Kim Jong Il, the North Korean leader, might be hoping this statement will force the United States to consider a softer line, not a harder one. A prominent Chinese analyst who has advocated that China get tougher with North Korea said the United States must consider accepting only a "partial" resolution of the nuclear issue.

"A total settlement - I think Kim Jong Il is determined to refuse in any condition," said Shi Yinhong, professor of international relations at Renmin University of China in Beijing. "So it's very difficult for other powers - the United States, China and South Korea - to realize so-called denuclearization."

Shi continued, "The problem is whether the other powers are willing to accept a partial settlement. Up until now the United States has refused to accept it, but the United States also cannot realize its final objective of complete denuclearization of North Korea. And the U.S. also has no military options."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the North had no reason to believe the United States would attack:

"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," she said in Luxembourg yesterday. "There is a path for the North Koreans that would put them in a more reasonable relationship with the rest of the world. "

White House press secretary Scott McClellan said the statement from North Korea was "rhetoric we've heard before."

"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," he said.

Those talks included North and South Korea, the United States, China, Russia and Japan. Since 2003, three rounds of talks have been held in Beijing to persuade the North to abandon its weapons program in return for economic aid, but no significant progress was made.

Yesterday South Korea repeated its previous estimate that Pyongyang has enough plutonium to build one or two nuclear bombs.

"We once again urge North Korea to rejoin the six-party talks without conditions so that it can discuss whatever differences it has with the United States and other participants," a spokesman for South Korea's Foreign Ministry said.

"We express our strong concern with the North Korean statement that it has nuclear weapons, and we again declare our stance that we will never tolerate North Korea possessing nuclear weapons."

In London, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan also urged North Korea to rejoin the talks, and he asked the other five nations to help: "I expect that with efforts by the other countries involved, North Korea could be brought back to the table."

The growing reach of North Korea's nuclear ambitions has further complicated matters. The United States recently concluded that Libya probably obtained enriched uranium from North Korea, strong evidence that the North, despite its continued denials, has a uranium-based bomb program, in addition to one based on plutonium.

The North has apparently expanded its nuclear capability since 2002, when the United States accused Pyongyang of running a secret uranium-enrichment program in violation of international treaties.

Washington and its allies then cut off shipments of fuel oil to the North. It retaliated by withdrawing from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and restarting its plutonium program.

Since then, the North could have reprocessed 8,000 spent fuel rods into enough plutonium to produce up to six nuclear bombs, in addition to one or two bombs it might already have had on hand, experts say.

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