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Skepticism over N. Korea nuclear claims

Staff and wires

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1994 agreement
North Korea promised to give up its nuclear weapons program and allow inspections to verify that it did not have the material such weapons would require. The country has yet to allow the inspections.
N. Korea nuclear facts
  • North Korea launched a medium-range "test" missile over Japan in 1998.
  • The 1994 Agreed Framework was signed by North Korea with the Clinton administration.
  • In return, an international consortium is building new nuclear reactors in North Korea.
  • PYONGYANG, North Korea -- Reports from North Korea that the reclusive nation has developed nuclear weapons are being met with confusion and skepticism.

    North Korea's Pyongyang Radio said Sunday the country "has come to have nuclear and other strong military weapons to deal with increased nuclear threats by the U.S. imperialists," according to the Yonhap news agency which monitors North Korean broadcasts.

    It was unclear, however, whether the report referred to a plutonium- or uranium-based weapon.

    South Korean officials Monday reacted to the reports with skepticism, saying such radio reports are usually followed up with an official statement and as yet no such statement has been issued.

    Pyongyang observers are now waiting to see if the report is a deliberate tactic by the North, or simply a mistake by the state broadcaster.

    Yonhap said the language -- which appeared to go further than Pyongyang's previous claims to "be entitled to have nuclear weapons" -- may have been deliberately misleading.

    Analysts say Pyongyang could have deliberately broadcast this message -- whether it is true or not --in an attempt to gauge the extent of international reaction to such news .

    U.S. administration officials, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, have said Washington believes Pyongyang has enough plutonium to make one or two weapons, but it does not know whether North Korea has enough enriched uranium to make a nuclear weapon.

    If the North Koreans were indicating in the report they have enough enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon, "that would make it more proximate for us to have to do something about it," a senior administration official said.

    Last month, Pyongyang admitted it had a clandestine weapons program, in violation of a 1994 agreement with the United States.

    The agreement called for North Korea to freeze an earlier nuclear program in exchange for the United States promising to provide fuel oil and build two safer nuclear reactors.

    North Korea has since said the crisis spawned over the admission could be settled if the United States were to back off from its "hostile policy" toward the country.

    Last week, the international consortium charged with implementing the 1994 agreement with North Korea agreed to suspend fuel oil deliveries to the Communist nation because of the nuclear revelation.

    The radio report could be an attempt to further confuse the nuclear issue in response to the decision to suspend oil shipments.

    North Korea's ruling party newspaper, in a report with similar content to the Pyongyang Radio broadcast, said the United States was the one who had broken the pact.

    Axis of evil

    "The United States is spreading a whopping lie that the DPRK violates the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and the DPRK-U.S. agreed framework," said a Rodong Sinmun article, carried by the state-run Korean Central News Agency.

    "The lie is aimed to tarnish the international prestige and authority of the DPRK and isolate the DPRK on a worldwide scale. And it is a cunning plot to cover up the criminal nature of the U.S. posing nuclear threats to the DPRK and divert the public attention at home and abroad elsewhere."

    DPRK is the acronym of the North's official title, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

    The communist newspaper said the United States had branded the North part of an "axis of evil," and listed Pyongyang as a target for pre-emptive nuclear attack.

    "This is a declaration of war, a nuclear war against the DPRK. Therefore, the U.S. openly violated and destroyed the DPRK-U.S. agreed framework and nullified the North-South joint declaration on denuclearization," the Rodong Sinmun said.

    North Korea also reiterated terms it set late in October for addressing U.S. nuclear concerns: a non-aggression pact and a guarantee of the impoverished state's sovereignty.

    Reuters contributed to this report.

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