North Korea continues tough talk, doesn't rule out pre-emptive attack

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

SEOUL, South Korea -- North Korea on Tuesday refused to rule out a pre-emptive attack, even amid signs it may be willing to return to the nuclear bargaining table.

The North poured out anti-American rhetoric -- a tactic it has used in the past before entering negotiations -- by claiming that Washington's "hostile policies" led it to develop nuclear weapons as a deterrent and warning against any attack to dislodge its leadership.

"The United States should be aware that the choice of a pre-emptive attack is not only theirs," the North's official news agency quoted the state-run newspaper Minju Joson as saying. "To stand against force with force is our unswerving method of response."

The commentary came amid a flurry of contacts aimed at convincing the North to resume six-nation talks, suspended since the third round ended in June, on its nuclear program.

South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun will meet with President Bush in Washington on June 10 to discuss bilateral alliance issues and the way forward on North Korea.

U.S. officials said earlier this month that spy satellites showed possible preparations for North Korea's first nuclear-weapons test.

China, the North's strongest ally, said Tuesday it could not confirm reports its neighbor was planning a nuclear test.

"We have expressed many times that we do not know the intentions and situations of North Korea," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan said at a regular briefing.

North Korea indicated a willingness Sunday to return to the talks -- involving the two Koreas, the United States, Japan, China and Russia -- but said it was waiting for Washington to clarify conflicting statements on U.S. policy toward the reclusive communist state.

It reaffirmed North Korea's commitment "to peacefully resolve the issue through dialogue and negotiations" and said the North "will continue to closely watch the U.S. side's attitude, and when the time comes we will officially deliver to the U.S. side our position through the New York contacts."

McClellan said Monday the Bush administration sees no contradictions in its statements on North Korea.

"The six-party talks are the way forward to resolving this issue. We want to see them come back to the talks. We have no preconditions for returning to the talks and we've made that very clear," McClellan said.

South Korea repeatedly brought up the nuclear issue last week during its first face-to-face talks with North Korea in 10 months. While the North refused to allow a mention of the issue in a final joint statement, it did agree to follow-up meetings.

Talks between the two countries were being held Tuesday in the North Korean border village of Kaesong on working out details of a visit by a South Korean delegation to the North's capital, Pyongyang, next month for the fifth anniversary of a historic summit accord.

North Korea on Tuesday also repeated claims its nuclear weapons help protect peace in East Asia.

"It is in the East Asian region, including the Korean Peninsula, where the U.S. moves for vicious attacks and war ... are carried out most seriously," Minju Joson said. "It is our nuclear deterrent that basically guarantees peace and stability."

The commentary, carried by the Korean Central News Agency, also blamed Washington's "hostile policies" for prompting Pyongyang to possess nuclear weapons.

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