Fri, Feb 07, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Attack will trigger war, says N Korea

UPPING THE ANTE After Donald Rumsfeld called the Pyongyang regime `terrorist,' North Korea vowed `full-scale war' should there be an attack on its nuclear plants


US pre-emptive attacks on North Korea's nuclear facilities would trigger a "full-scale war," the communist state warned yesterday after US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld labeled the North's government a "terrorist regime."

The harsh rhetoric came a day after North Korea said it was putting the operation of its nuclear facilities on a "normal footing," triggering fears it was about to produce weapons materials.

"If the United States launches a surprise attack on our peaceful nuclear facilities, it will spark a full-scale war," said the North's state-run Rodong Sinmun in a commentary carried by Radio Pyongyang and monitored by the South Korean news agency Yonhap.

Although Washington has repeatedly denied it plans to invade North Korea, Rumsfeld said restarting the nuclear program would give the North a troubling option -- making nuclear weapons for itself or selling them to any other country.

"That is something the world has to take very seriously," he said late Wednesday.

In an English-language statement released late Wednesday, a North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman said the North "is now putting the operation of its nuclear facilities for the production of electricity on a normal footing after their restart."

The statement left it unclear how far North Korea has proceeded in reactivating its nuclear facilities, which include a 5-megawatt nuclear reactor, a storage of 8,000 spent fuel rods and a plant where those rods could be reprocessed to yield enough plutonium for four or five bombs in a matter of months.

Last week, US officials said spy satellites detected covered trucks apparently taking on cargo near the storage house. Experts were divided over whether North Korea was removing the rods for reprocessing or just pretending to do so in a bluff to escalate tensions.

The latest North Korean statement left officials wondering whether North Korea was trying to take advantage of Washington's preoccupation with Iraq to ratchet up pressure in its own standoff with the US.

North Korea said in December that it was reactivating its facilities to generate badly needed electricity. But US officials say the amount of electricity that can be produced in the Yongbyon facilities is negligible.

The most immediate step the North could take is likely to be restarting the 5-megawatt reactor, which can produce more spent fuel rods, South Korean officials said.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, the Vienna-based UN nuclear monitoring agency, said it couldn't confirm any new nuclear activities because its inspectors were sent out of the country in December.

"We are trying various channels to confirm what it means," said an official at the South Korean Foreign Ministry, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "At this moment, we have no information to confirm that North Korea has reactivated its nuclear facilities, that is the reactor and other key facilities."

The North's announcement Wednesday came shortly before US Secretary of State Colin Powell made the case at the UN Security Council that Iraq has evaded weapons inspectors and harbors weapons of mass destruction.

But even as it presses toward war with Iraq, the US has insisted it wants a peaceful solution in the standoff with North Korea.

US President George W. Bush "keeps all of his options open," National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said in a television interview. "But he happens to believe that this is a situation with North Korea that can be resolved diplomatically."

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