North Korea yesterday dismissed allegations that it is cooperating with Iran in nuclear development, accusing Western media of spreading the accusation to mislead public opinion.
The "assertion is nothing but a sheer lie and fabrication intended to tarnish the image of the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of North Korea] by charging it with nuclear proliferation," North Korea's foreign ministry said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
"As solemnly declared more than once by the DPRK, it will continue to sincerely honor its duty it had assumed before the international community in the field of nuclear non-proliferation as a responsible nuclear weapons state," it added.
The communist country, which quit the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in early 2003, conducted its first nuclear weapons test in October, raising concerns about possible nuclear proliferation.
Earlier this week, the UK's Daily Telegraph quoted an unidentified senior European defense official as saying that North Korea is helping Iran prepare for an underground nuclear test -- possibly by the end of this year.
Last week, an Iranian Foreign Ministry delegation led by Vice Minister Mahdi Safari met senior North Korean officials in Pyong-yang and signed a three-year agreement on unspecified scientific exchanges, KCNA said earlier, without giving further details.
North Korea and Iran are under growing international pressure to give up their nuclear programs.
North Korea is believed to have sold missiles to Iran. Although North Korea's publicly acknow-ledged nuclear weapons program uses plutonium, Iran's nuclear program is based on uranium.
Pyongyang's strong denial came as the US, Japan, China, Russia and South Korea prepare to hold a new round of talks with North Korea aimed at shutting down its nuclear weapons program.
The session last month made no progress, but officials said the six-party talks may resume as early as Feb. 8.