Ditching its last legal obligation to keep itself free of nuclear weapons, North Korea said yesterday that a 1992 agreement with South Korea not to deploy nuclear arms on the Korean Peninsula was "a dead document."
The announcement, initially made late Monday in Korean and then repeated yesterday in English, came as US President George W. Bush and South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun planned to meet this week in Washington to discuss North Korea's nuclear programs.
US officials say North Korea told them last month it already possesses nuclear weapons. In the past week, the North has said it has built "a deterrent force" to protect itself from what it calls a pre-emptive US nuclear attack.
"The inter-Korean declaration on denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula was thus reduced to a dead document due to the US vicious hostile policy to stifle the DPRK with nukes," the North's official news agency, KCNA, said. DPRK stands for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the North's official name.
The two Koreas signed the agreement in January 1992, pledging not to develop or deploy nuclear weapons on the divided peninsula.
The accord was the last remaining legal obligation under which North Korea was banned from developing atomic arms. In January this year, North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, a global accord to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.
North Korea accuses the US of planning to attack the communist country, which Bush has branded part of an "axis of evil" along with Iran and Iraq.
It also revived its claim that the US military keeps many nuclear weapons in South Korea, turning the country into "the biggest nuclear advance base in the Far East."
Washington says it wants to use dialogue to resolve the nuclear crisis, although US officials have not ruled out a military option.
North Korea "keenly felt that the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula would only remain as a daydream unless the US drops its hostile policy toward the DPRK," KCNA said.
It said the US invasion of Iraq taught it that "a war can be averted and the sovereignty of the country and the security of the nation can be protected only when a country has ... a strong military deterrent force capable of decisively repelling any attack to be made by any types of sophisticated weapons."
"The reality indicates that building up a physical deterrent force is urgently required for preventing the outbreak of a nuclear war on the Korean Peninsula," it said. "The US is chiefly to blame for ditching the North-South joint declaration on denuclearization."
Roh is traveling in the US on a weeklong trip that will focus on seeking a peaceful solution to the crisis. Roh, who was scheduled to meet Bush at the White House today, paid a solemn visit Monday to site of the former World Trade Center in New York City, attacked by terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001.
A spokeswoman for Roh said the North Korean statement might be a negotiating ploy in the wake of talks last month with US officials in Beijing.
During the talks in Beijing, US officials said North Korea claimed it already possesses nuclear weapons, and that it had reprocessed 8,000 spent nuclear fuel rods -- a move that could yield several atomic bombs within months.
North Korea offered to drop its nuclear and missile programs in exchange for security guarantees and economic aid, according to US officials. Chinese officials also took part in the talks.