North Korea Says It Has Nuclear Weapons and Rejects Talks

By JAMES BROOKE

New York Times

February 11, 2005

TOKYO, Feb. 10 - In a surprising admission, North Korea's hard-line Communist government declared publicly today for the first time that it has nuclear weapons.

It also said that it will boycott United States-sponsored regional talks designed to end its nuclear program, according to a North Korean Foreign Ministry statement transmitted today by the reclusive nation's wire service.

Pyongyang said it has "manufactured nukes for self-defense to cope with the Bush administration's undisguised policy to isolate and stifle" North Korea, and that it will "bolster its nuclear weapons arsenal."

The statement, considered a definitive policy pronouncement, said that North Korea, led by the reclusive dictator Kim Jong Il, is pulling out of the talks after concluding that the second Bush administration would pursue the "brazen-faced, double-dealing tactics" of dialogue and "regime change."

Four hours before the official Korean Central News Agency transmitted the pullout statement, a top Bush administration official told reporters here that North Korea's return to the nuclear talks was expected by all other participants -the United States, Japan, South Korea, Russia and China.

"The onus is really on North Korea," said John R. Bolton, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, noting that the last time the parties met was in June.

Referring to North Korea's bomb making capability, he added: "The absence of progress in six-party talks means they are making further progress toward their increased capability."

It is unclear if North Korea is definitively slamming the door to talks or merely trying to raise its price for returning to the bargaining table.

"We are compelled to suspend our participation in the talks for an indefinite period," the statement said, adding that North Korea would only return when "there are ample conditions and atmosphere to expect positive results from the talks."

From Europe, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice told RTL television of Luxembourg: "The North Koreans should reassess this and try to end their own isolation." A similar appeal came from Japan, America's closest ally in the region.

In London, Secretary General Kofi Annan of the United Nations said he expected the North Koreans could be brought back to the nuclear talks. "I hope it's not an indefinite position," he said.

In Beijing, the Foreign Ministry's chief spokesman, Kong Quan, said China hoped the talks with North Korea would continue, according to a statement issued by the New China News Agency,

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi of Japan told reporters about North Korea's decision to boycott the talks: "It's better to resume them early. It would be in North Korea's interest to make use of the six-party forum."

Overall, the statement was a bucket of cold water for analysts who predicted a resumption of talks this spring. Two groups of American congressmen returned last month from visits to Pyongyang with reports that North Korean officials were hinting at an imminent return to the negotiating table.

President Bush, in his State of the Union message last week, avoided the confrontational rhetoric of past speeches in which he branded North Korea as member of "the axis of evil," alongside Iraq and Iran. This time, in his only reference to Pyongyang, he merely said that he was "working with governments in Asia to convince North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions."

But in today's statement, Pyongyang zeroed in on Dr. Rice's testimony last month in her Senate confirmation hearings, where she lumped North Korea with five other dictatorships, calling them "outposts of tyranny."

"The true intention of the second-term Bush administration is not only to further its policy to isolate and stifle the D.P.R.K. pursued by the first-term office, but to escalate it," the statement said, referring to North Korea by its formal name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

Outside critics and defectors say that North Korea is neither democratic nor popular, since it has been ruled for the last 60 years by the Kim family, an avaricious clan that does not permit multiparty elections or the slightest whisper of dissent. Today Pyongyang told the Bush administration to talk to the kinds of North Koreans it likes.

"We advise the U.S. to negotiate with dealers in peasant markets it claims that are to its liking or with representatives of the organization of North Korean defectors on its payroll, if it wishes to have talks," the statement said.

In the same statement, North Korea also attacked Japan for "toeing the U.S. line." Tokyo has been struggling with mounting popular pressure for economic sanctions. On Tuesday, Prime Minister Koizumi personally received a petition calling for sanctions, signed by five million people.

Japanese anger with North Korea rose sharply last month after Pyongyang delivered to visiting Japanese diplomats two boxes of half-cremated remains, said to be of a Japanese woman kidnapped from Japan by North Korean agents in the 1970's. DNA analysis showed that the remains were not of the missing Japanese woman, but of two unidentified people. It is unclear if North Korea, which tightly controls information from the outside world, was aware of DNA technology. Its statement today charged that Japan had "fabricated the issue of false remains over the abduction issue."

Conservative Japanese increasingly say Mr. Koizumi should call the bluff of what they say is a bankrupt state that routinely hides behind scary bluster.

"At first, we should make economic sanctions," Shintaro Ishihara, Tokyo's conservative governor said in an interview this afternoon, just before North Korea's nuclear weapons vow was made public.

"At the second stage, let them bomb Japan with that nasty missile," Mr. Ishihara taunted with sarcasm in his voice as he spoke in his office, in Tokyo's tallest building. "Their missile cannot load a nuclear warhead." Asked what Japan would do in response to a missile attack, Mr. Ishihara merely smiled.

The United States has said that North Korea has up to eight nuclear bombs. But, it has never exploded a nuclear device.

One year ago, Siegfried Hecker, a former director of the nuclear weapons laboratory in Los Alamos, N.M., toured Yongbyon, North Korea's main known nuclear facility. Although North Korea apparently organized the visit to persuade Americans of their nuclear weapons prowess, Dr. Hecker returned home saying that he was not convinced North Korea could build a working nuclear bomb and mount it on a missile.

Half a century after the Korean War, North Korea has not signed a formal peace treaty with South Korea and its main ally, the United States. In September 1991, in an effort to denuclearize the divided peninsula, President George H. W. Bush announced the withdrawal of all American tactical weapons from South Korea, totaling about 100. In December 1991, both Koreas signed a formal agreement pledging not to produce, test or store nuclear weapons.

Over the next decade, South Korea conducted what now appear to be several minor, disconnected experiments in technology related to nuclear weapons. North Korea agreed to seal a plutonium-based nuclear program. But in 2002, an American official confronted Pyongyang with evidence that it had been cheating on its nuclear promises, maintaining a covert uranium enrichment program.

In response, North Korea expelled international inspectors from Yongbyon, announced that it was quitting the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and said it was building up what it ambiguously called its "nuclear deterrent." The six-nation disarmament talks started in Beijing in August 2003, but have not yielded any tangible results.