Wed, Feb 11, 2004 - Page 5 News List

N Korea says Pakistani nuclear claim a `sheer lie'

REUTERS , SEOUL

A Pakistani scientist's confession that he sold nuclear weapons technology to North Korea was a "sheer lie" cooked up by the US to justify an invasion, North Korea said yesterday.

The father of Pakistan's nuclear-arms program, Abdul Qadeer Khan, said last week he had sold nuclear secrets to Libya and two countries that US President George W. Bush has labelled part of an "axis of evil," North Korea and Iran.

Khan's confession came three weeks before North Korea was scheduled to join the US, China, Japan, Russia and South Korea for a second round of talks aimed at ending the North's nuclear-weapons program.

North Korea has long denied US assertions that it had been pursuing an atomic-weapons program using highly enriched uranium.

US officials said the North Koreans had admitted to such a program in October 2002 when confronted with evidence of efforts to procure equipment to enrich uranium for bombs.

The confrontation led to North Korea withdrawing from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and taking plutonium rods out of storage, an essential step to developing weapons.

In the North's first reaction to the revelations out of Pakistan, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said the US had fabricated Khan's story to derail the nuclear talks and lay the groundwork for an Iraq-style invasion.

"The United States is now hyping the story about the transfer of nuclear technology to the DPRK by a Pakistani scientist in a bid to make the DPRK's enriched uranium programme sound plausible," said the spokesman in a statement published by Pyongyang's official KCNA news agency.

"This is nothing but a mean and groundless propaganda," the spokesman said, adding that Khan's disclosures are such a "sheer lie that the DPRK does not bat an eyelid even a bit."

DPRK stands for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, North Korea's official title.

"This is aimed to scour the interior of the DPRK on the basis of a legitimate mandate and attack it just as what it did in Iraq in the end and invent a pretext to escape isolation and scuttle the projected six-way talks," it said.

Khan's admission he had sold the nuclear-weapons technology made North Korea "realize once again what a just measure it took to build nuclear deterrent force," the spokesman said.

South Korean analysts have said North Korea had suffered a big setback from Khan's disclosures, with some in the South worrying that continued denials by the North might ruin prospects for the long-awaited second round of six-party talks in Beijing.

After confessing on television to blackmarket nuclear technology dealings and absolving Pakistan's military and government of blame, Khan was pardoned by President Pervez Musharraf in an apparent effort to lay the controversy to rest.

The US has strongly defended Musharraf's handling of the scandal, reflecting a balancing act between its usual aggressive stance on punishing proliferation and its firm support for the Pakistani leader.

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