- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 3, 2006

12:54 p.m.

SEOUL — North Korea said today it will conduct a nuclear test in the face of what it claimed was “the U.S. extreme threat of a nuclear war,” ratcheting up tensions amid international pressure to return to negotiations on its atomic program.

The United States warned a North Korean nuclear test “would pose an unacceptable threat to peace and stability.” South Korea raised its security level, and Japan promised a severe response if the threat was carried out.

The statement from Pyongyang gave no precise date for a test, but the prospect that North Korea could soon take a major step forward in its nuclear weapons development triggered alarm and condemnation in foreign capitals, including Russia and the European Union. North Korea has a recent history of making provocative statements while refraining from an all-out confrontation with its chief enemy, the United States.

“The U.S. extreme threat of a nuclear war and sanctions and pressure compel [North Korea] to conduct a nuclear test, an essential process for bolstering nuclear deterrent, as a self-defense measure in response,” the North’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The Bush administration, which has denied it has any intention of attacking the communist nation, denounced the threat.

A nuclear test “would pose an unacceptable threat to peace and stability in Asia and the world,” said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, who was traveling with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in the Middle East.

“A provocative action of this nature would only further isolate the North Korean regime and deny the people of the North the benefits they so rightly deserve,” Mr. McCormack said.

South Korea “has begun discussions with related countries,” the country’s presidential office said. Yoon Tae-young, a presidential spokesman, said the increased security level would mean “intensifying, among other things, the monitoring system to detect signs of North Korea’s nuclear testing.”

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, said he was urging Security Council members to consult with their capitals on the next steps.

“I think it’s important that if we embark on something here that we do it seriously and not simply issue statements for the sake of issuing statements,” he told reporters before the council met for closed discussions.

Pyongyang has said it has nuclear weapons, but has not conducted any known test to prove its claim. South Korea’s spy agency has said the North could test a nuclear bomb at any time.

China, North Korea’s neighbor, ally and chief benefactor, had no immediate comment.

Multilateral talks on North Korea’s nuclear program have been stalled for almost a year, with Pyongyang boycotting the six-nation talks in protest over U.S. financial restrictions imposed for its purported illegal activity, including money laundering and counterfeiting.

Efforts to bring the North back to negotiations have taken on added urgency after the communist nation test-fired seven missiles in July, including one believed to be capable of reaching the United States.

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