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The Atlanta Journal-Constitution February 11, 2005

Defiant N. Korea brags it has nukes

'Axis of evil' nation spurns U.S.-led talks to curb weapons

By Bob Deans

Washington --- North Korea declared publicly for the first time Thursday it had built nuclear weapons, raising the stakes in a long-simmering dispute with the United States. It said it would suspend indefinitely its participation in U.S.-led talks aimed at ending the Communist nation's quest for a nuclear arsenal.

The Bush administration sought to downplay the announcement, urging North Korea to return to the bargaining table and warning it risks further international isolation and the withdrawal of Western economic aid.

The development poses a challenge to President Bush, who has only limited diplomatic options to bring to bear in seeking to curb the defiant nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea. Bush had named the two as part of an "axis of evil" and went to war with Saddam Hussein's Iraq, the third such nation he listed in his 2002 State of the Union address.

North Korea, over state-owned media from Pyongyang, called its motive "self-defense" against U.S. efforts to "isolate and stifle" the country.

Asian analysts said the regime was responding to tough rhetoric from Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who last month called North Korea one of the world's "outposts of tyranny."

"The U.S. disclosed its attempt to topple the political system in [North Korea] at any cost, threatening it with a nuclear stick," North Korea's Foreign Ministry said.

The statement departs from the previous "neither confirm nor deny" policy on uranium enrichment.

U.S. intelligence analysts have long presumed North Korea has two or three nuclear weapons, an estimate some raised last year to six or eight.

The U.S. intelligence estimates, however, have never been publicly substantiated.

Bush has tried diplomacy to get North Korea to abandon its nuclear aims, through six-party talks that include China, Russia, South Korea and Japan. There have been three rounds of such talks --- the most recent in June.

"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," Thursday's North Korean statement read.

The Bush administration was consulting its partners in the talks and holding out hope North Korea was angling for the best possible terms before committing itself to returning to the table.

"The world has given them a way out, and we hope they will take that way out. The North Koreans have been told by the president of the United States that the United States has no intention of attacking or invading North Korea," Rice said in Luxembourg, wrapping up a European trip.

"Let's see what the North Koreans do down the road," she told reporters. "Everybody is urging them to get back to the talks."

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld repeated that he could not confirm North Korea has nuclear arms.

"I do not know of certain knowledge that they do," Rumsfeld told reporters in Nice, France.

"Given their dictatorial regime and their repression of their own people, one has to worry about weapons of that power in the hands of leadership of that nature," said Rumsfeld. "I don't think that anyone would characterize the leadership of that country as being restrained."

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov told reporters in Nice, where he joined Rumsfeld and other NATO defense officials, that it would be a mistake for North Korea to give up on the talks.

"If the government of North Korea took the decision to withdraw from the six-sided negotiations, I believe such a step would be unsuitable," Ivanov said.

China and Russia are thought to be the only nations with influence over North Korea, though neither Beijing nor Moscow has been able to persuade Pyongyang to give up its nuclear pursuits.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan urged Thursday that the six-party talks continue.

South Korea urged its neighbor to rejoin the talks, and said it maintained its previously stated estimate that North Korea has enough plutonium to build one or two nuclear bombs.

"We once again urge North Korea to rejoin the six-party talks without conditions so that it can discuss whatever differences it has with the United States and other participants," said South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Lee Kyu-hyung.

The U.S. standoff with North Korea began in 2002, when Washington accused Pyongyang of running a secret uranium enrichment program in violation of international treaties.

America and its allies halted fuel oil shipments to the impoverished country under a 1994 deal that offered the free fuel in return for assurances North Korea would halt any nuclear weapons development.

In response, North Korea quit the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in 2003 and restarted its plutonium-based nuclear weapons program.

While North Korea claims to have built nuclear weapons, Iran denies trying to acquire them, saying its nuclear program is intended only to develop electric power.

Britain and France are leading diplomatic efforts to persuade Iran to open all its nuclear facilities to international inspection. So far Iran has agreed to inspections only of certain facilities. U.S. analysts believe Iran is far behind North Korea, however, in its quest for nuclear arms.

--- The Associated Press contributed to this article.

GRAPHIC: Eccentric, all-powerful leader Kim Jong-il says North Korea needs nuclear arms because it is threatened by America. / Associated Press

Western analysts have long suspected that North Korea has nuclear weapons, but the announcement Thursday by Pyongyang was the regime's first public acknowledgment. Military experts say North Korea considers ballistic missiles the delivery system of choice for its nuclear weapons.

North Korea long favored direct talks with the United States. The United States favored six-party talks involving itself, the two Koreas, China, Russia and Japan. North Korea participated in three rounds of talks but pulled out of a fourth round in September. North Korea has the fifth-largest military in the world. It says its nuclear weapons are necessary because of U.S. hostility. The United States says it has no hostile intentions toward North Korea and wants to defuse the situation through negotiation. China has supplied North Korea with food and other supplies but is nervous about the regime's nuclear brinkmanship. Russia wants closer economic relations with North Korea, but North Korea's $5 billion debt to Russia is an obstacle. South Korea sends food and other aid to the North because it fears a flood of refugees if the North Korean regime collapses. North Korea's nuclear threat has forced Japan to look harder at its own defensive preparedness.

There is no independent confirmation of North Korea's claim to have nuclear weapons. It is also uncertain how many weapons it may have. Some estimates run as low as one or two. Others are as high as six to eight. The weapons could be delivered by ballistic missiles.

Hwasong 5
Range: 186 -- 248 miles
Payload: 1,000 kg

Hwasong 6
Range: 310 miles
Payload: 77 kg

Range: 808 miles
Payload: 1,000 -- 1,200 kg

Taepo-dong 1
Range: 1,553 miles
Payload: 700 -- 1,200 kg

Taepo-dong 2
Range: 4,163 -- 6,213 miles
Payload: 500 -- 1,000 kg

Sources: Associated Press, Jane's Information Group, GlobalSecurity.org Research by WAYNE SNOW / Staff

Map locates North Korea. Map of the world highlights missile range. Inset map outlines area of detail relative to Russia and China. / TROY OXFORD / Staff;

THE 'NUCLEAR CLUB' North Korea announced for the first time Thursday that it had nuclear weapons, a claim that, if true, makes it the ninth nation known or generally believed to possess such arms. A glance at the world's nuclear weapons states and their stockpiles:
> UNITED STATES: More than 5,000 strategic warheads, more than 1,000 operational tactical weapons --- meant for the battlefield and less powerful than the strategic arms --- and approximately 3,000 reserve and tactical warheads.
> RUSSIA: Nearly 5,000 strategic warheads, approximately 3,500 operational tactical warheads, and more than 11,000 strategic and tactical warheads in storage.
> FRANCE: About 350 strategic warheads.
> CHINA: About 300 strategic warheads and 120 tactical warheads.
> BRITAIN: About 200 strategic warheads.
> INDIA: Between 45 and 95 nuclear warheads.
> PAKISTAN: Between 30 and 50 nuclear warheads.
> ISRAEL: Refuses to confirm it is a nuclear weapons state but is generally assumed to have as many as 200 nuclear warheads.
Sources: Arms Control Association

Copyright 2005, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution