- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 19, 2002

SEOUL (AP) North Korea's state-run radio backed away yesterday from a report that the communist state has nuclear weapons, South Korean officials said.
State-run Pyongyang Radio reported Sunday that the North "has come to have nuclear and other strong military weapons due to nuclear threats by U.S. imperialists," said South Korea's Yonhap news agency, which monitors broadcasts from the North.
But late yesterday, another North Korean state-run radio station, Central, carried a slightly altered version of the report, reverting to the North's obscure stand on whether the country has nuclear weapons, Yonhap said.
In its version, Central Radio said North Korea "is entitled to have nuclear and other strong military weapons due to nuclear threats by U.S. imperialists" a phrase the country's leadership has used since acknowledging in October that it had a covert program to make nuclear weapons with enriched uranium.
Some had interpreted Sunday's Korean-language report as the North's first confirmation that it had nuclear weapons, but South Korean officials questioned the claim.
Yonhap and others played down the significance of Sunday's report, saying it could have been a mistake by the news anchor.
"In North Korea, such a report should follow an official government statement or policy announcement or comments by a top official," said Choi Young-joon, a chief analyst at South Korea's Unification Ministry.
Under a 1994 deal with the United States, North Korea agreed to freeze its plutonium facilities suspected of being used to develop nuclear weapons.
Pyongyang has said it will resolve its nuclear issue if the United States offers a nonaggression pact. Washington has rejected any such talks unless the North scraps its nuclear ambitions "in a prompt and verifiable manner."


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