North Korea says it used nuclear fuel for weapons

SELF-DEFENSE: The vice foreign minister told the UN that Pyongyang had been forced to acquire a nuclear deterrent because of increasingly threatening US policies

AP , UNITED NATIONS

Wed, Sep 29, 2004 - Page 5

North Korea says it has turned the plutonium from 8,000 spent nuclear fuel rods into nuclear weapons to serve as a deterrent against increasing US nuclear threats and to prevent a nuclear war in northeast Asia.

Warning that the danger of war on the Korean peninsula "is snowballing," Vice Foreign Minister Choe Su Hon on Monday provided details of the nuclear deterrent that he said North Korea has developed for self-defense.

He told the UN General Assembly's annual ministerial meeting that Pyongyang had "no other option but to possess a nuclear deterrent" because of US policies that he claimed were designed to "eliminate" North Korea and make it "a target of pre-emptive nuclear strikes."

"Our deterrent is, in all its intents and purposes, the self-defensive means to cope with the ever increasing US nuclear threats and further, prevent a nuclear war in northeast Asia," he told a news conference after his speech.

In Washington, a State Department official noted that Secretary of State Colin Powell has said repeatedly that the US has no plans to attack the communist country.

But in his General Assembly speech and at the press conference with a small group of reporters, Choe accused the US of intensifying threats to attack and destroying the basis for negotiations over Pyongyang's nuclear program.

Hostile

Nonetheless, he said, North Korea is still ready to dismantle its nuclear program if Washington abandons its "hostile policy" and is prepared to coexist peacefully.

At the moment, however, he said "the ever intensifying US hostile policy and the clandestine nuclear-related experiments recently revealed in South Korea are constituting big stumbling blocks" and make it impossible for North Korea to participate in the continuation of six-nation talks on its nuclear program.

North Korea said earlier this year that it had reprocessed the 8,000 spent nuclear fuel rods and was increasing its "nuclear deterrent" but did not provide any details.

Choe was asked at the news conference what was included in the nuclear deterrent.

"We have already made clear that we have already reprocessed 8,000 wasted fuel rods and transformed them into arms," he said, without elaborating on the kinds or numbers.

When asked if the fuel had been turned into actual weapons, not just weapons-grade material, Choe said, "We declared that we weaponized this."

South Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Lee Soo-hyuck said in late April that it was estimated that eight nuclear bombs could be made if all 8,000 spent nuclear fuel rods were reprocessed. Before the reprocessing, South Korea said it believed the North had enough nuclear material to build one or two nuclear bombs.

"If the six-party talks are to be resumed, the basis for the talks demolished by the US should be properly set up and the truth of the secret nuclear experiments in South Korea clarified completely," Choe told the General Assembly.

South Korea disclosed recently that its scientists conducted a plutonium-based nuclear experiment more than 20 years ago and a uranium-enrichment experiment in 2000. It denied having any weapons ambitions, and an investigation by the International Atomic Energy Agency is under way.

Choe told the press conference that North Korea wants an explanation because Pyongyang believes it is impossible that such experiments took place "without US technology and US approval."

He also accused President George W. Bush's administration of being "dead set against" reconciliation between North and South Korea, and of adopting an "extremely undisguised ... hostile policy" toward the country after it came to power in early 2001.