North Korea admits nuclear arsenal


North Korea has said for the first time that it has nuclear weapons.

A commentary broadcast on state radio said North Korea had developed “powerful military counter-measures, including nuclear weapons” to cope with what it called mounting nuclear threats from the United States.

Last month, Washington announced that North Korea had admitted to having a programme for producing highly-enriched uranium – a key ingredient in nuclear weapons.

But this is the first time the communist state has made such an acknowledgement.

A foreign ministry statement in October said only that the country was “entitled” to have nuclear weapons.

President George Bush has repeatedly called on Pyongyang to eliminate its nuclear programme, saying it is the only way the country can have a viable future.

The BBC’s Charles Scanlon says state media often contains hostile rhetoric and it is not clear how literally the broadcast – which was not attributed – is meant to be taken.

He says for years North Korea has tried to keep the world guessing about its nuclear capabilities.

Pyongyang’s demands

Sunday’s broadcast accused Washington of “slandering and injuring” North Korea.

America’s “reckless manoeuvres”, it said, were threatening the country’s right to existence and sovereignty.

“Under these circumstances we cannot sit idle with our arms folded,” the radio said.

It also repeated Pyongyang’s demands that the US must sign a non-aggression pact, insisting it was the only way to resolve the nuclear issue.

The timing of the broadcast fits in with a pattern of North Korean “confession”, according to Michael Yahuda, professor of International Relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

He told BBC News Online, it appeared they wanted to clear the way for talks.

“The US is threatening and, by responding, Pyongyang is sending out a message: ‘We have nuclear weapons as well, so lets find a way to negotiation’,” he said.

Aid stopped

The US defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, said last month that North Korea might have one or two nuclear weapons.

Earlier this week, the US, South Korea, the European Union and Japan agreed to halt fuel aid to North Korea until Pyongyang moved to dismantle the programme.

Under a 1994 accord, North Korea agreed to freeze its nuclear programme in return for 500,000 tonnes of fuel oil a year in aid.

But Washington considers that Pyongyang nullified the 1994 pact when it reportedly admitted to a US envoy that it was trying to build nuclear weapons.


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