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U.S.: N. Korea makes N-test threat

Bilateral talks turn 'acrimonious'

Kelly and Kim, pictured at a Beijing banquet Thursday, met on the sidelines of the six-party talks.
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The U.S. proposal an end to the 20-month deadlock.
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- North Korea has threatened to test a nuclear weapon if Washington does not accept its proposal to suspend its nuclear program, U.S. officials say.

The threat came during a meeting between North Korean Foreign Minister Kim Gye Gwan and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly on the sidelines of six-nation talks in Beijing aimed at curbing Pyongyang's nuclear program.

One senior administration official said Kim told Kelly the North Korean foreign ministry was trying to defuse the 20-month nuclear crisis on the peninsula, but that "hard-liners" in the Ministry of Defense were being tough.

This official said the meeting on the sidelines of the four-day talks lasted for two and a half hours and often turned "acrimonious."

"Kim said, 'look if you don't buy our freeze proposal and buy it soon, we are going to test a nuclear weapon,' and it continued to go on this way for the duration of the meeting," this official said.

Pyongyang has offered to put its nuclear program on hold in exchange for compensation, including huge amounts of energy aid.

But Washington wants to set a timetable for Pyongyang to scrap its nuclear weapons program entirely.

Kelly told Kim there was little trust of the North Koreans in Washington, and that this threat would not improve matters, the official said.

North Korea's nuclear program has come under the global spotlight after officials from Pyongyang admitted the state had a covert program in October 2002.

U.S. officials said the North Koreans have dubbed their proposal "freeze for compensation."

"Obviously that is not going to happen," the senior official said. "And to threaten to use nuclear weapons is very serious."

Another senior official said the North Korean threat "is not a thoughtfully considered response to a thoughtfully considered proposal."

"North Korea has said these things before, this is nothing new," this senior official said.

"But this doesn't advance their interests or their cause. We had a good proposal and the North Koreans should take the time to consider it."

U.S. offers deal

On Wednesday the United States proposed that North Korea end its nuclear program and allow international monitors to return in exchange for energy aid and a provisional U.S. security guarantee.

Under the American plan, North Korea would cease all of its nuclear activities; secure any fissile material that could be used to produce a nuclear bomb; disable any dangerous materials; and allow inspectors to return.

In exchange, the other countries in the talks -- China, South Korea, Japan and Russia -- would provide Pyongyang with badly needed heavy fuel oil, and the United States would offer a "provisional" guarantee not to attack North Korea.

The isolationist state has signaled in the past it is willing to abandon its nuclear weapons program if it no longer feels threatened by the United States' "hostile policy."

North Korea has yet to respond to the proposal, but the U.S. delegation is waiting for another day of talks to see if North Korea comes back with a response.

In the past, the Bush administration has insisted it will not engage in bilateral talks with Pyongyang, which is believed to have a small number of nuclear weapons.

But Wednesday's offer appeared to be a significant departure from the administration's hardline stance, towards one that favors engagement.

That could be due in part to pressure from U.S. allies, Japan and South Korea, who have seen the American stance as rigid and allowed North Korea to move ahead on its nuclear program

The third round of six-nation talks is due to end on Saturday, but news agencies reported on Friday that a scheduled closing ceremony has been cancelled.

It is unclear why this might be, but two previous rounds of six-nation talks have failed to make headway.

CNN's Elise Labott, Mike Chinoy and Suzanne Malveaux contributed to this report

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