- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 6, 2003

WASHINGTON, Feb. 6 (UPI) — The White House Thursday dismissed North Korea's threat of "pre-emptive" war against the United States, saying it was prepared with "robust plans for any contingencies."

"We've heard much talk from North Korea before," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer. "Obviously the United States is very prepared with robust plans for any contingencies."

An official from North Korea's Foreign Ministry told Britain's Guardian newspaper Pyongyang reserved the right to launch a pre-emptive attack against Washington.

"The United States says that after Iraq, we are next," Ri Pyong-gap, deputy director at the ministry, said. "But we have our own countermeasures. Pre-emptive attacks are not the exclusive right of the U.S."

Earlier Thursday, North Korea warned that if the United States attacked a nuclear facility, reopened a day earlier, the result would be disaster to Koreans on both sides of the peninsula.

"If the United States launches a surprise attack on our peaceful nuclear facilities, it will spark a full-scale war," said Rodong Sinmun, North Korea's state-run newspaper. "A U.S. attack will lead to a nuclear war. All Koreans not only in the North but also in the South will become a victim of the war."

North Korea Wednesday said it had restarted a nuclear reactor that could be used to make radioactive materials for weapons.

Fleischer dismissed Pyongyang's war talk.

"This type of talk and the type of actions North Korea has engaged in and … is engaging in only hurt North Korea and further isolate the North Korean people from the modern world," he said. "…We will always have contingency plans."

He said Washington was working with Japan, South Korea and China to ease the tensions with Pyongyang.

South Korea said it was deeply concerned about the escalating nuclear standoff but said the North's move did not necessarily mean it would go nuclear.

North Korea said its reactor operations were proceeding "on a normal footing."

"The DPRK (North Korea) is now putting the operation of its nuclear facilities for the production of electricity on a normal footing after their restart," a foreign ministry spokesman said.

Officials in Seoul said they could not confirm the restart of North Korea's nuclear facilities and added the Wednesday announcement may have been a move by Pyongyang to draw Washington's attention as the United States stepped up war preparations against Iraq.

Pyongyang's state-run Korean Central News Agency quoted the foreign ministry spokesman as saying that North Korea "solemnly" stated that its nuclear activity would be limited to peaceful purposes, including the production of electricity "at the present stage."

North Korea said its atomic facilities would be used to produce electricity, insisting its resumption of nuclear activity was a consequence of the U.S. decision to cease shipments of heavy fuel oil to the country.

But nuclear analysts say 5-megawatt reactors at a nuclear plant in Yongbyon, north of Pyongyang, are too small to generate much electricity. They fear that North Korea's move is part of efforts to producing weapons-grade plutonium. Confirmation of those concerns would come if and when North Korea restarts is refining facility at Yongbyon.

In 1994 North Korea shut down the Yongbyon site and halted construction on two larger reactors of 50 and 200 megawatts as part of a U.S.-brokered deal to build two light-water reactors, which do not produce plutonium to refine for nuclear weapons, at international expense.

In Seoul, President Kim Dae-jung again urged Pyongyang to drop its nuclear ambitions and accept international nuclear inspectors "for the sake of peaceful co-existence of both Koreas."

A Foreign Ministry official told United Press International that "the text of the North Korean report looks more like language saying it was about to restart the facility, rather than they had actually restarted it."

But the official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the possibility is high that North Korea will eventually move to reactivate the nuclear facility if indeed they have not already.

The North's announcement came less than five days after U.S. officials said American satellite surveillance had shown North Korea was moving fuel rods around the Yongbyon reactor complex. It came the same day U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell made a dramatic presentation before the United Nations Security Council about Iraq and its violations of disarmament agreements.

The International Atomic Energy Agency is to meet next Wednesday to discuss the nuclear standoff. Officials said IAEA's 35-nation board of governors are almost certain to send the dispute to the U.N. Security Council, which could impose sanctions. North Korea has said any sanctions on it would be tantamount to a declaration of war.

North Korea said it would no longer recognize the Security Council if it decides sanction Pyongyang.


(With Jong-Heon Lee in Seoul, South Korea)

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide