- The Washington Times - Friday, February 11, 2005

LUXEMBOURG — North Korea yesterday made its most explicit declaration yet that it possesses “nukes” and pulled out of talks with the United States and four other countries aimed at ending Pyongyang’s atomic-weapons program.

“We … have manufactured nukes to cope with the Bush administration’s ever more undisguised policy to isolate and stifle [North Korea],” the North Korean Foreign Ministry said in a statement issued by its official Korean Central News Agency in English.

The Bush administration responded that it could deal with any threat from the reclusive communist state.

The North blamed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s recent remarks branding it an “outpost of tyranny” and the Bush administration’s “undisguised policy to isolate and stifle” the communist nation as the reason for its latest rhetorical broadside at the United States.

“Nuclear weapons will remain [a] nuclear deterrent for self-defense under any circumstances,” the ministry said.

The United States thinks that the North had produced one and possibly two atomic bombs by the mid-1990s and that it has made an additional four to six bombs since President Bush branded it part of an “axis of evil” in his State of the Union address three years ago.

Miss Rice, who wrapped up a weeklong tour of Europe and the Middle East and headed back to Washington yesterday, downplayed the latest North Korean threat.

“We have for some time taken account of the capability of the North Koreans to perhaps have a few nuclear weapons,” she told reporters here.

She said the United States and South Korea have a sufficient deterrent on the Korean Peninsula to “deal with any potential threat from North Korea.”

On the North’s decision to abandon talks, Miss Rice said: “This is an unfortunate move, most especially, probably, for the people of North Korea, because it only deepens North Korea’s isolation from the rest of the international community.”

Mr. Bush, in his State of the Union speech last week, refrained from directly criticizing North Korea. He said his administration was “working closely with governments in Asia to convince North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions.”

The administration created the six-party format in 2003 with Japan, South Korea, China and Russia, but the talks have not led to a resolution.

“The Bush administration termed the DPRK, its dialogue partner, an outpost of tyranny. This deprived the DPRK of any justification to participate in the six-party talks,” the Foreign Ministry said.

“We have wanted the six-party talks, but we are compelled to suspend our participation in the talks for an indefinite period,” it said.

DPRK is the acronym for North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

North Korea also said it hoped “to solve the issue through dialogue and negotiations and its ultimate goal to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula remains unchanged.”

Miss Rice called North Korea as well as Iran, Cuba, Zimbabwe, Burma and Belarus “outposts of tyranny” during her Senate confirmation hearing last month.

Asked whether, in her new role as the nation’s chief diplomat, she needed to be more conscious of the repercussions of comments like her “outposts of tyranny” remark, Miss Rice said, “I told the truth, and the chief diplomat should tell the truth.”

Miss Rice yesterday discussed the North Korean threat with European officials, but it was not a major issue on her agenda.

She is expected to visit Japan, China and South Korea next month, and the North’s nuclear program is certain to take center stage.

She declined to analyze the North Korean statement, saying, “I’m not sure anyone ever gets very far by trying to second-guess the motivation of the North Korean regime.”

She urged Pyongyang to reconsider its decision and return to the six-party talks.

“The North Koreans have been told by the president of the United States that the United States has no intention of attacking or invading North Korea,” she said.

“There is a path for the North Koreans that would put them in a more reasonable relationship with the rest of the world.”

But “no such assurances will be forthcoming,” she said, if the North does not give up its nuclear-weapons program.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said North Korea has made it a practice of violating international agreements and understandings, including the 1994 Agreed Framework and a North-South agreement with South Korea.

“So their respect for agreements is modest. And so, one has to be concerned about it from a proliferation standpoint if you believe them, that they have weapons,” Mr. Rumsfeld said in Nice, France, where he is meeting NATO ministers.

The latest crisis with North Korea began in 2002 when the United States confronted the nation with evidence that it had a uranium-enrichment program in violation the framework agreement of 1994. Enriching uranium is a step in producing atomic weapons.

The Bush administration then stopped oil shipments, which it had promised as part of the framework deal.

North Korea then threw out U.N. inspectors from Yongbyon, site of the suspended plutonium processing program.

It also quit the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in early 2003 and restarted its plutonium-based nuclear-weapons program.

Since then, North Korea has said that it has a “nuclear deterrent” and that it had succeeded in “weaponizing plutonium.” But yesterday’s announcement marked the first time that it used the words “nukes” and “nuclear weapons” in describing its nuclear arsenal.

Henry Sokolski, executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, said yesterday’s statement by North Korea was part of a familiar pattern in its dealings with the United States and its allies.

“By announcing this, North Korea thinks they can get us again to grovel and to treat them like equals,” Mr. Sokolski said.

• Bill Gertz and Rowan Scarborough contributed to this article in Washington.

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