- The Washington Times - Friday, January 31, 2003

SEOUL, South Korea, Jan. 31 (UPI) — North Korea Friday vowed to resist U.S. pressure to give up its nuclear program and assailed President George W. Bush's alleged aggressive stance regarding North Korea.

In Seoul, the South Korean government came under fire after its top envoy on nuclear returned empty-handed from a mission to North Korea.

Reacting to media reports that North Korea has recently move spent fuel bars at its at Yongbyon nuclear facility, Washington Friday warned Pyongyang such a movement would indicate that the communist regime was preparing to make nuclear weapons.

"Any movement of the spent fuel rods at Yongbyon would be a very serious development for the international community, and be another step in the wrong direction by North Korea," said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher.

He referred to a recent report by the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Commission, which said: "Once North Korea starts operating a reprocessing plant, they will be able to produce plutonium in increasing amounts as they go along."

"So reprocessing of spent fuel is clearly a step in the direction of nuclear weapons," Boucher said.

At the White House, spokesman Ari Fleischer endorsed the State Department's assessment saying: "Any steps toward beginning reprocessing would be another provocative action by North Korea intended to intimidate and blackmail the international community."

He said it was "a further sign that North Korea continues to isolate itself and step backward from its obligations to the world."

Earlier Friday, North Korea gave its first reaction to President Bush's State of the Union speech, saying that Bush's critical message was an act of war aimed at overthrowing the ruling regime.

Bush accused North Korea of "deceiving" the world and vowed not be "blackmailed" into granting concessions to it. Bush also described the North's leadership as "oppressive regime" that "rules a people living in fear and starvation."

North Korea's Foreign Ministry said the message was an "undisguised declaration of aggression."

"Bush has so far earned an ill fame as an emotional backbiter, but his recent address clearly proves that he is a shameless charlatan reversing black and white under the eyes of the world," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

"This policy speech is, in essence, an undisguised declaration of aggression to topple the DPRK (North Korea) system," said the statement carried by the North's state-run Korean Central News Agency.

The attack on Bush's address was followed by North Korea's rejection of U.S. pressure to "internationalize" its nuclear dispute. The United States has been floating the idea of resolving the nuclear dispute through multilateral channels, involving five permanent Security Council members — the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain — plus the two Koreas, the European Union, Japan and Australia.

"We are opposed to any attempt to internationalize the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula and we will never participate in any form of multilateral talks," a North Korean envoy to China, Choe Jin Su, said at a news conference in Beijing.

North Korea has insisted a resolution to the nuclear crisis would come only through direct talks between Pyongyang and Washington, calling for a non-aggression pact with the United States before it will engage in talks.

"It is the United States that menaces the sovereignty of the DPRK and its right to existence. Only the United States is responsible for doing away with the threat and able to do so," Choe said.

The New York Times reported in its Friday editions that U.S. spy satellites over North Korea had detected what appeared to be trucks moving the Stalinist state's stockpile of 8,000 nuclear fuel rods out of storage. U.S. officials told the newspaper it feared Pyongyang was preparing to produce roughly a half dozen nuclear weapons. The CIA believes North Korea already possesses one or two such weapons.

Pyongyang has been fiercely opposed to Washington's efforts to send the North Korean nuclear issue to the U.N. Security Council, which could vote for sanctions against the already impoverished North. North Korea has said it would consider sanctions a declaration of war.

Seoul media reported the International Atomic Energy Agency has set a Feb. 12 emergency meeting of its 35-nation board of directors 12 to consider referring the issue to the Security Council.

South Korea wanted to postpone the IAEA meeting to give North Korea time to change course. President-elect Roh Moo-hyun, who takes office Feb. 25, made clear Thursday he opposes any U.N. economic sanctions against North Korea.

South Korea has backed dialogue as a path to resolve the nuclear crisis, which was set off in October when Washington said that North Korea acknowledged having a secret uranium-based nuclear program in violation of a 1994 agreement.

But the South Korean government came under fire after its presidential envoy returned empty-handed from a mission to North Korea that highlighted South Korea's drive to resolve the nuclear crisis.

The envoy, Lim Dong-won, had hoped to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il to try to personally dissuade him from pursuing nuclear weapons development. But the meeting did not take place. Lim was told that the North Korean leader was not in the capital at the time of his visit to Pyongyang.

But analysts and officials in South Korea said the North Korean leader refused to meet the South Korean envoy because he saw little chance of an inter-Korean agreement on the nuclear issue.

"At a time when the international community is weighing different approaches to halt North Korea's nuclear ambitions, Pyongyang found it difficult to cement its position and relay it to Seoul," an official at the Unification Ministry told United Press International. "North Korea apparently needed more time," said the official requesting anonymity.

Critics say Kim's refusal to meet South Korea's presidential envoy was "unacceptable insult," saying the two Koreas had agreed on the envoy's visit based on the condition of Lim's meeting with the North Korean leader. "The (Seoul) government has been humiliated before the world," JoonAng Daily said.

Chosun Ilbo, South Korea's biggest selling newspaper, said Seoul's attempt to persuade North Korea just "damaged" the reputation of President Kim Dae-jung and the South Korean government.

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