N. Korea says building more nukes
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- North Korea says it has a stockpile of nuclear weapons and is building more, even as the reclusive communist nation discusses a return to six-party talks on its nuclear program.
North Korea's Vice Foreign Minister Kim Gye Gwan told the U.S. television network ABC on Wednesday that the country had enough bombs to "defend against a U.S. attack," but said the exact number was a secret.
North Korea, led by Kim Jong Il, first declared in February that it had nuclear weapons.
Some analysts have speculated that North Korea has between six and eight nuclear weapons, though there have been no weapons tests detected.
In recent years it has tested short- and long-range missiles, most recently on May 1. In 1998, it test-fired a missile over Japan into the Pacific Ocean.
Earlier this week, North Korea told the United States it was willing to return to the six-party talks on its nuclear program, but has not said when, according to the U.S. State Department.
The talks involve the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States.
Wednesday's interview was conducted in the North Korean capital Pyongyang by ABC News correspondent Bob Woodruff.
Speaking through a translator, Kim said North Korea's nuclear program was not aimed at attacking the United States, but he would neither confirm nor deny if its missiles could reach the United States.
Asked by Woodruff if North Korea had the ability to put a nuclear warhead on its long-range missiles, Kim said: "I want you to know that our scientists have the knowledge, comparable to other scientists around the world."
Woodruff asked if that was a "yes" or a "no".
Kim responded: "You can take it as you like."
Last month, an international security expert from Harvard University, Jim Walsh, told CNN that North Korea had never successfully tested a long-range missile or a nuclear device -- much less a combination of the two.
"We are very, very far from that point," he said.
Mohamed ElBaradei, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, was asked on CNN's "Late Edition" last month whether the agency's assessment was that North Korea now possesses as many as six nuclear bombs.
"I think that would be close to our estimation," ElBaradei said. "We knew they had the plutonium that could be converted into five or six North Korea weapons," he said.
In New York this week, China's ambassador to the United Nations said six-party talks, which have not been held for a year, could resume within "the next couple of weeks."
In a Monday meeting with U.S. officials in New York, "the North Koreans said they would return to the six-party process, but did not give us a time," department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters.
A statement issued Wednesday by KCNA, the official North Korean news agency, quoted North Korea's Foreign Minister as saying the resumption of the talks depended on Washington.
"It entirely depends on the U.S. response to the DPRK's (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) call for creating conditions and an environment for their resumption," KCNA reported.
China's Ambassador to the United Nations, Wang Guangya, said the talks should be held "the sooner the better."
"It will imply the next couple of weeks," he said, adding they will likely be held in Beijing.
"So far, no other venue has been proposed," he told reporters.
Pressed as to whether the talks would occur during the northern summer, the ambassador said, "I think so."
South Korea and Japan have responded cautiously so far, noting there is no firm date yet. Russia is the other participant in the six-party talks.
Monday's meeting, which North Korea had requested, took place at the North Korean mission to the United Nations.
U.S. lead envoy to North Korea, Joseph DeTrani, and Jim Foster, the director of the State Department's Korea Office, attended the meeting with North Korean Ambassador to the United Nations, Pak Gil Yon, and his deputy, Han Song Ryul, the spokesman said.
"This provides the North Koreans, we think, a basic choice, a pathway forward, in which they would be able to potentially realize the respect that they have asked for and to get the assistance that they potentially need," McCormack said.
He added, "The ball is in North Korea's court to provide the time they will return to the table and to actually return to the table to engage in a constructive manner."
McCormack made his comments moments after White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters that North Korea had "expressed their commitment to the six-party talks," but did not say when, or even if, it would return to negotiations.
Asked about the apparent discrepancy in accounts, McCormack said, "I don't see any difference between what Scott said this morning and this here."
The North Korean government withdrew in late 2002 from its nuclear agreements and restarted a nuclear reactor at Yongbyon, which had been shut since 1994. It also kicked out U.N. inspectors and monitors.
Although North Korea had agreed to talks with the United States, Russia, China, South Korea and Japan on the nuclear issue, it opted out of those talks last September, saying the United States has a "hostile" policy towards it.
In February, Pyongyang declared it had nuclear weapons and would continue boycotting the six-party talks indefinitely unless Washington were to agree to one-on-one talks.
The Bush administration has refused to do so, saying the issue affects the entire region and, therefore, other parties should be included as well.
It has been a year since the last round of six-way talks. In March, the United States threatened to take North Korea to the U.N. Security Council -- a move opposed by Pyongyang.
Over the weekend, a senior Defense Department official told CNN that the United States was close to deciding to bring the matter to the U.N. Security Council, but Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice later said that was not true.
U.S. chances of punishing North Korea with economic or political sanctions would not be great, in any event, since China, which opposes sanctions generally, could veto a U.S. motion.
The insular North Korean government, meanwhile, has denounced sanctions as tantamount to a declaration of war.