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N. Korea warns U.S. of 'nuclear disaster'

Bush has labelled North Korea part of an
Bush has labelled North Korea part of an "axis of evil" which he says threatens world peace  

By CNN's Joe Havely in Hong Kong
and wire reports

SEOUL, South Korea -- North Korea has warned the United States that it would be "grossly mistaken" if it chose to attack the communist state with nuclear weapons, saying such an act would result in America's own "ruin in nuclear disaster."

The statement, carried on the official Korea Central News Agency (KCNA), comes days after American newspapers carried reports of a secret Pentagon review naming seven countries including North Korea as potential targets of U.S. nuclear strikes.

It also follows U.S. President Bush's naming of the North earlier this year as part of an "axis of evil" along with Iran and Iraq.

That sent relations between Washington and Pyongyang plummeting to a fresh low and the subsequent inclusion of the North on an American nuclear hit list does not seem likely to ease the chill any time soon.

In the North Korean statement, monitored by new agencies in the South Korean capital, Seoul, KCNA warned that the country would "not remain a passive onlooker" to it's inclusion on a list of U.S. targets.

The Pentagon report lists three conditions in which the use of nuclear weapons might be considered, including: 
• Use against targets capable of withstanding non-nuclear attacks  
• Retaliation for attack with nuclear, biological or chemical weapons  
• And a third, catch-all category: "in the event of surprising military developments."  
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Instead, and without giving further details, the report said Pyongyang would "take a strong countermeasure against it."

"If the U.S. intends to mount a nuclear attack on any part of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea just as it did on Hiroshima, it is grossly mistaken," KCNA was quoted as saying, using the formal title for North Korea.

"A nuclear war to be imposed by the U.S. nuclear fanatics upon the DPRK would mean their ruin in nuclear disaster."


It added that the reports indicated the Bush administration was "working in real earnest to prepare a dangerous nuclear war to bring nuclear disasters to our planet and humankind."

The statement falls in line with a long history of North Korean brinkmanship and rhetorical bluster, and follows its traditional ambiguity over whether or not the North does indeed possess nuclear weapons.

Nonetheless, it reflects alarm expressed by all seven of the countries listed on the Pentagon review and from several others beside.

Apart from North Korea the countries named on the list are Libya, Syria, China and Russia, as well as the two other "axis of evil" states Iran and Iraq.

On Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Sun Yuxi said his country was "deeply shocked" to be included in the document.

He called on Washington to give a full explanation of the reports and of their implications for future U.S. strategy.

Russia has also expressed its concerns over the report, although U.S. officials say the only reason it was included was because of its large nuclear arsenal and not because Washington regards it as a current threat.


The border between North and South Korea: One of the last Cold War hotspots
The border between North and South Korea: One of the last Cold War hotspots  

For their part, officials in the Bush administration have sought to play down the implication of the review saying that the United States reserves the right to use nuclear weapons in the event it or its allies are attacked.

They say the document in itself does not represent a change in U.S. policy but is simply a matter of prudent planning by Pentagon officials.

According to the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times, both of whom carried reports on the document last weekend, the secret "nuclear posture review" was passed to the U.S. Congress by the Pentagon in January.

The document outlined the possible use of nuclear weapons against countries that possess or are developing weapons of mass destruction.

North Korea is among those countries the U.S. suspects of seeking to develop nuclear weapons -- a prospect that brought the two countries to the brink of conflict in 1994.

Washington says North Korea is engaged in developing long-range missiles
Washington says North Korea is engaged in developing long-range missiles  

At the time, subsequent reports have revealed, Pentagon planners drew up a detailed blueprint for an attack on the North's weapons facilities.

The plans given to then President Bill Clinton said that any military action would likely spark a conflict resulting in tens of thousands of deaths on both sides of the Korean peninsula.

Military action was eventually averted when a diplomatic deal was brokered in which the North agreed to freeze its nuclear program -- never admitting how far it had progressed -- in exchange for oil supplies and Western aid in the construction of new peacetime nuclear reactors.

Since coming to power last year however, the Bush administration has been skeptical about the value of that deal, saying it amounts in effect to paying North Korea not to develop nuclear weapons without adequate guarantees of compliance.

Concerns have also been raised about North Korea's missile development program with some U.S. defense analysts saying it could roll out a missile capable of hitting the continental United States before 2015.

Pyongyang insists its missile program is purely for peaceful space research purposes but has so far stuck by its self-imposed moratorium on test launches.


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