- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 1, 2003

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) North Korea accused the United States yesterday of triggering a nuclear crisis by failing to provide promised energy, disrupting inter-Korean reconciliation and plotting war against the North.

At the same time, Pyongyang reiterated that the only way to resolve the nuclear standoff on the Korean Peninsula was through direct talks with the United States. Washington says ties can only improve if North Korea first abandons its nuclear ambitions.

"The situation is getting tenser with each passing day," the North said in a dispatch on its state-run news agency, KCNA. "The U.S. is entirely to blame for this."

Pyongyang said Washington had failed to follow through on a pledge to build two nuclear reactors in North Korea in exchange for the freezing of its nuclear facilities in a 1994 deal. Those facilities, which the energy-starved North is in the process of reactivating, are the center of its suspected weapons program.

In Seoul, South Korea's new government declared itself "in hot water" over the crisis with North Korea. It also confirmed U.S. intelligence reports that North Korea has reactivated a 5-megawatt nuclear reactor that could be used to make the raw material for nuclear weapons.

The reactivation followed a North Korean missile launch into the Sea of Japan and was apparently timed to coincide with Tuesday's power shift to a new South Korean government led by President Roh Moo-hyun."Indeed, the new government is in hot water from the beginning," South Korea's Unification Minister Jeong Se-hyun said yesterday on KBS Radio.

Mr. Jeong, who directs the South's policy of trying to engage the North, said Pyongyang's recent maneuvers also appeared aimed at forcing the United States into direct dialogue to sign a nonaggression treaty with the isolated communist regime. Pyongyang also seeks aid to revive its shattered economy.

"The DPRK and the U.S. are the parties directly concerned with the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula," a Foreign Ministry spokesman told KCNA. "It is the most reasonable way of settling the issue for the DPRK and the U.S. to sit face to face and negotiate it."

DPRK stands for Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

A separate North Korean statement on KCNA said a nonaggression treaty should be ratified by the North's Supreme People's Assembly and both houses of the U.S. Congress.

"The DPRK's proposal for concluding the treaty is aimed to provide a legal binding force to control and prevent the U.S. from using nukes and posing a threat of military attack to it," read the statement, which was described as an indictment of Washington by the North's "lawyers' committee."

"It is not leverage to get a sort of reward nor is it a temporary expedient so-called 'brinkmanship tactics,"' the statement said.

U.S. officials have ruled out a formal treaty, though they say some form of written security guarantee is possible. They also say the issue should be handled by the U.N. Security Council.

North Korea said the United States had blocked progress on the construction of inter-Korean railways and other projects, but acknowledged in a one-line statement the U.S. announcement this week that it would donate about 220,000 tons of food aid to the impoverished nation.

The North offered no thanks for the food, but some analysts said the acknowledgment could be an effort to improve ties with Washington.

Also Friday, a U.N. envoy said he will visit North Korea for five days beginning March 18 to try to broker talks to resolve the standoff over the North's nuclear program.

Maurice Strong, a special adviser to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, expressed concerns over the differences between the United States and North Korea on how to resolve the problem.

"There is a risk that attitudes may harden on both sides and prospects for peaceful resolution could in fact become reduced and made more difficult," said Strong, who visited Seoul this week to attend Roh's inauguration.

The nuclear dispute flared in October when the U.S. government said North Korean officials had admitted pursuing a secret nuclear program.

Washington and its allies cut off oil shipments. The North responded by saying it would reactivate its frozen facilities from an earlier nuclear program. It also expelled U.N. monitors and withdrew from the global Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

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