Saturday, July 26, 2003

From combined dispatches

TOKYO — North Korea is prepared to conduct a nuclear test unless the United States agrees to hold nuclear talks with the communist state, a Japanese newspaper said yesterday, quoting Japanese and North Korean sources.

Asahi Shimbun said the warning had been conveyed to U.S. envoy Jack Pritchard by a North Korean official in a meeting in New York between officials from the two nations earlier this month.

Earlier this week, diplomatic sources in Tokyo told Reuters news agency that the North was ready to declare itself a member of the nuclear club, opening the way for tests and increased production of weapons, unless the nuclear crisis is resolved by Sept. 9, the anniversary of North Korea’s founding.

Asahi Shimbun said a North Korean official told Mr. Pritchard, “If the United States continues its policy of pressure against us, we may be forced to take opposing measures, such as, for example, a nuclear test.”

The newspaper added that there is a possibility that any test could take place by Sept. 9.

No Japanese foreign ministry officials were available to comment on the report.

Pyongyang has said it has finished reprocessing spent nuclear fuel rods that could allow it to make about half a dozen atomic bombs, but doubts persist about the accuracy of its assertions.

Cautious hopes of a breakthrough in the crisis about North Korea’s nuclear-arms program have risen since China sent an envoy to Pyongyang earlier this month, apparently to suggest a compromise format for negotiations.

Also yesterday, on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the end of the Korean War, the North told the United States that it would suffer a “miserable defeat” in any new war between them.

Chief of the General Staff of the North Korean army, Kim Yong-chun, said the North has built up strong military deterrence despite economic constraints.

Reporting to a national meeting of government, party and military leaders, he said the “arrogant and outrageous moves of the U.S. imperialists” to “stifle” North Korea by force are being carried to extremes.

The army and North Korean people have built up their deterrent force through “all hardships, tightening their belts,” the official Korean Central News Agency said.

The U.S.-led United Nations Command planned to commemorate the anniversary of the truce with a ceremony at the border village of Panmunjom, where the armistice was signed 50 years ago.

About 2,500 representatives, including 900 veterans from the 16 countries of the U.S.-led coalition, were expected to take part in the ceremony.

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