North Korea is building nuclear weapons for political blackmail, the head of US forces in South Korea said yesterday, adding he was not overly worried about the military threat they posed.
US General B.B. Bell also said in an address to business leaders in South Korea that he did not think the government in Pyongyang would collapse soon.
"The North has built nuclear weapons as an instrument of political policy in order to blackmail nations in the area," Bell said, adding Pyongyang also hoped their atomic ambitions may cause fissures in the US-South Korean military alliance.
A senior envoy of the communist state said on Tuesday that North Korea was now prepared to return to six-country talks on its nuclear weapons program because it had "gained a defensive position" with a nuclear test.
Bell said those who had been paying close attention to North Korea's atomic ambitions had not been surprised by that Oct. 9 test.
"I'm not worried about their nukes militarily," Bell said. "I see this as a political instrument much more so than I see it as a military instrument."
Proliferation experts said it was unlikely North Korea had the technology to miniaturize nuclear weapons to mount them on missiles and its ageing air force would have trouble penetrating US defenses in order to deliver such a bomb.
North Korea has said it was forced to build nuclear weapons in order to defend itself against US plans to invade the country and topple its leaders, but Bell rejected the claim.
"The United States is not plotting an attack against North Korea. The idea that the North needs nuclear weapons to defend itself is ridiculous," he said.
Bell said a strong deterrent would help diplomatic efforts to end Pyongyang's nuclear plans and the North would be soundly defeated if it tried an attack.
"Irrespective of the type of weapons that they have, should they attack the South, we will respond quickly, decisively and we will end it," he said.
Meanwhile, US and North Korean envoys ended discussions in Beijing yesterday without reaching an agreement on when to resume six-nation talks on dismantling Pyongyang's atomic weapons program.
US Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill told reporters that after two days of talks with North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye-gwan, he planned to leave Beijing tomorrow.