- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 25, 2002

From combined dispatches
North Korea yesterday warned that the Korean peninsula was on "the brink of a nuclear war" because of Washington's hard-line policies, as U.S. officials demanded Pyongyang immediately end its atomic weapons program.
As North Korea ratcheted up the rhetoric against Washington, it also started reopening more mothballed nuclear energy plants, ignoring pleas from the United States and Asian neighbors to leave them closed.
U.S. officials and the International Atomic Energy Agency said they suspected North Korea was trying to goad Washington back to the negotiating table after President Bush cut off oil shipments to the energy-starved nation. State Department spokesman Phil Reeker dismissed any such strategy, saying "we will not give in to blackmail."
"Pyongyang needs to completely and verifiably dismantle its nuclear weapons program and abide by its existing commitments," the department said in a prepared statement. "We cannot move forward in our relationship with North Korea until its violations of its commitments are ended."
The administration has said the resumption of North Korea's nuclear weapons program poses a threat to world security, partly because Pyongyang has been developing long-range missiles that may be able to deliver nuclear warheads. Washington accuses Pyongyang of being the world's biggest seller of missiles and missile-production technology.
U.S. officials sought to project an air of calm, offering measured responses as the dispute worsened. North Korea issued its strongest warnings since it began last weekend to dismantle U.N. monitoring equipment from shuttered nuclear power plants. North Korean technicians removed U.N. seals and cameras from a fourth nuclear facility, a plant that makes fuel rods. Experts believe some of the nuclear facilities were used to make one or two weapons in the 1990s.
In a sign of the urgency the issue has taken on, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell spent a fourth straight day asking Japan and other countries to increase pressure on North Korea, Mr. Reeker said.
"The secretary reiterated what we [have] said before that we are not anxious to escalate this problem but we are not going to be blackmailed," he said. "If North Korea is looking for U.S. support, this is not the way to do it."
Neither Mr. Powell nor Mr. Bush yesterday made any public comment. Mr. Bush monitored events on North Korea and other issues from Camp David, a spokesman said.
The North's defense minister, Kim Il Chol, said "U.S. hawks" were escalating the situation to "an extremely dangerous phase," adding that they were "pushing the situation on the Korean Peninsula to the brink of a nuclear war."
The reclusive communist state's defense minister said his country had "modern offensive and defensive means capable of defeating" any enemy. He spoke after Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Monday U.S. armed forces could fight two wars at the same time and win.
North Korea said Washington's hostile policy toward it would backfire and result in "an uncontrollable catastrophe." The statement by the North's communist party organ, Rodong Sinmun, was carried by the foreign news outlet Korean Central News Agency.
White House spokesman Sean McCormack had no direct comment on the new warnings from North Korea.
"We've made very clear we want a peaceful resolution to the situation North Korea has created by pursuing a covert nuclear weapons program, and as the president has said before, we have no intention of invading North Korea," he said. North Korea has accused the Bush administration of plotting an attack, and says the nuclear issue could be settled if Washington were to sign a nonaggression treaty.
South Korea, which would be on the front lines of any conflict on the peninsula and favors dialogue to end the crisis, expressed frustration with its unpredictable neighbor.
"South Korea, the United States, Japan, China, Russia and the European Union are all strongly calling on North Korea to abandon the nuclear program. But the North is not listening now," outgoing South Korean President Kim Dae-jung told his Cabinet.
President-elect Roh Moo-hyun, who was elected on Thursday on a campaign criticizing the tough U.S. stance on North Korea, met the ambassadors of China, Russia and Japan yesterday and spoke with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi by telephone.

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