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World regrets North Korea's quitting nuke talks

Rice says country is risking further world isolation

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(CNN) -- World leaders expressed concern on Thursday that North Korea will quit six-party nuclear disarmament talks and will "bolster its nuclear weapons arsenal."

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said North Korea is risking further world isolation "because everyone in the international community, and most especially North Korea's neighbors, have been very clear that there needs to be no nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula in order to maintain stability in that region." (Full story)

The report was North Korea's first public admission that it possessed nuclear weapons.

Pyongyang previously has asserted its ability and right to produce them. In April 2003, U.S. officials said that North Koreans claimed in private meetings they had at least one nuclear bomb.

The United States has opposed North Korea's demands that it hold one-to-one nuclear talks, saying a multilateral diplomatic approach is required.

Some observers in Washington say Pyongyang may be posturing for a more preferable negotiating position in light of recent developments regarding the suspected nuclear program in Iran. (Full story)

China, North Korea's ally in the talks, said through a Foreign Ministry spokesman that it hopes six-party talks will continue, according to China's state-run Xinhua news agency. "China was watching the situation," said spokesman Kong Quan, who added that China persistently stands for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the maintenance of peace and stability there. "We hope the talks can be continue," Kong said

Russia's Foreign Ministry said it regrets North Korea's decision. In a statement on the ministry's Web site, spokesman Alexander Yakovenko said Moscow is "carefully studying" the announcement and added, "For us it can only cause regret ... to our mind, this attitude contradicts Pyongyang's declared striving for denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

"Despite the firmness of the statement by the North Korean Foreign Ministry," Yakovenko said, "Russia still hopes for the soonest possible resumption of the six-nation negotiations and compromises in settling problems with due consideration of the interests of all sides."

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said North Korea could be brought back to the negotiating table. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw agreed, saying, "It would be a major mistake by [North Korea] were they to go down this route."

'Magnanimity and patience'

In the statement reported by North Korea's state news agency, KCNA, the North Korean Foreign Ministry said: "We have shown utmost magnanimity and patience for the past four years since the first Bush administration swore in.

"We cannot spend another four years as we did in the past four years, and there is no need for us to repeat what we did in those years."

U.S. diplomats have said that North Korea has used similar language when stepping aside from anti-nuclear proliferation talks in the past, although it is the first time that Pyongyang has been so explicit about its development of nuclear weapons.

The Foreign Ministry statement said North Korea's "stand to solve the issue through dialogue and negotiations and its ultimate goal to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula remain unchanged."

Since 2003, the United States, the two Koreas, China, Japan and Russia have held three rounds of talks aimed at persuading the North to abandon its nuclear weapons development in return for economic and diplomatic rewards.

But no significant progress was reported in those talks, all hosted by China.

A fourth round of talks in September did not take place when North Korea refused to attend, citing what it called a "hostile" U.S. policy.

Thursday's statement from the North Korean Foreign Ministry said nuclear weapons are "for self-defense to cope with the Bush administration's evermore undisguised policy to isolate and stifle" its government.

The communist state said it felt "compelled to suspend" participation in the six-nation talks "for an indefinite period."

"We have wanted the six-party talks but we are compelled to suspend our participation in the talks for an indefinite period till we have recognized that there is justification for us to attend the talks and there are ample conditions and atmosphere to expect positive results from the talks," the Foreign Ministry said.

"The U.S. disclosed its attempt to topple the political system in the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] at any cost, threatening it with a nuclear stick. This compels us to take a measure to bolster its nuclear weapons arsenal in order to protect the ideology, system, freedom and democracy chosen by the people in the DPRK."

Bush tones down 'axis of evil' rhetoric

In his inaugural address last month, President Bush did not mention North Korea by name. But he said U.S. efforts have lit "a fire in the minds of men."

"It warms those who feel its power, it burns those who fight its progress and one day this untamed fire of freedom will reach the darkest corners of our world," he said.

In his February 2 State of the Union address, Bush only briefly mentioned North Korea, saying Washington was "working closely with governments in Asia to convince North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions."

Bush's tone was in stark contrast to his speech three years ago when he branded North Korea part of an "axis of evil" that included Iran and Iraq. This year's address raised hopes for a positive response from North Korea.

Earlier this month, Bush and South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun agreed to push for an early resumption of the six-nation talks.

But Pyongyang said Bush's call for the spread of freedom in his inaugural speech was a diabolical scheme to turn the world into "a sea of war flames."

"In his inauguration speech, Bush trumpeted that 'fire of freedom will reach dark corners of the world.' This is nothing but a plot to engulf the whole world in a sea of war flames and rule it by imposing a freedom based on power," North Korea's state-run Pyongyang Radio said this month.

CNN's Sohn Jie-Ae and Suzanne Malveaux contributed to this report.

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