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N. Korea goes nuclear
Come back for talks, cry USA, China, Germany

Seoul, February 11
Countries from China to Germany urged North Korea on Friday to return to talks on ending its nuclear programmes after the Communist state announced it had nuclear weapons and had pulled out of disarmament discussions. The move by the North presents a major challenge to US President George W. Bush, starting his second term with a policy aimed at ending North Asia’s nuclear crisis through the six-party talks that China has been shepherding for nearly two years.

China, South Korea and Germany joined calls from the USA and around the world for Pyongyang to resume negotiations.

Standing right in the firing line is South Korea, under constant threat from a neighbour that keeps 70 per cent of its 1.2-million-strong army along a border that passes just 65 km (40 miles) north of the capital, Seoul.

“The assessment is that North Korea may be trying to raise its negotiating stakes,” Vice-Foreign Minister Lee Tae-shik was quoted as saying. “But it could turn into a very serious problem if the North takes additional steps.”

North Korea’s Foreign Ministry said on Thursday the state had been forced to boost its defences and to acquire nuclear weapons to contend with US hostility and the policy of the Bush administration to seek regime change.

It pulled out of the six-way talks, which also involve the USA, China, Russia, Japan and South Korea, but left the door open a crack to a possible resumption of negotiations. South Korean officials swiftly joined their US counterparts in saying talks were the only solution to end North’s isolation. They said the news only confirmed what was already known about the North’s nuclear ambitions. Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said his nation, which experts say, lies in the range of North Korean missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads, will use the power of persuasion.

“We are going to persuade North Korea by presenting it with a case that its interests are best served by dismantling its nuclear programmes,” Mr Koizumi told reporters. South Koraen Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon, in Washington on Thursday, said the South could not tolerate the North possessing nuclear weapons.


China, one of North Korea’s few friends and the country that exercises the most influence there, issued a brief response that it hoped talks would continue and was watching developments.

Australia, one of the few Western countries to have official ties with the North, tried to mediate. Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said he had spoken with North Korean Ambassador Chon Jae Hong and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and hoped the climate for talks would improve.

“I took some encouragement from the fact that although (Chon) thought the climate wasn’t right at the moment, that implied that matters could change and the climate could be better,” he said.

Some analysts said North Korea might be raising the stakes while US attention was focused on Iran’s nuclear programmes in order to obtain better terms. North Korea has engaged in brinkmanship in the past at crucial diplomatic junctures. “We don’t see a serious alternative to the six-party talks,” said Germany Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer on a visit to tsunami-hit Aceh in Indonesia. “We appeal to North Korea that they should go back to the negotiating table.” Three rounds of six-party talks have been held since August 2003 but a fourth failed to take place last September when North Korea refused to show up.

Mr Bush has backed a diplomatic solution to the crisis but now faces two nations he once named as part of an “axis of evil” being defiant about their nuclear programmes — North Korea and Iran. He went to war with Iraq, the third “axis” nation. North Korea sent a message of solidarity to Iran late on Thursday on the 26th anniversary of the Islamic Republic to praise its success in working to defend its sovereignty, a move almost certainly intended to further enrage the USA. Analysts warned, however, that such brinkmanship could have dangerous consequences and Seoul should not underestimate the danger.

“North Korea’s rejection of dialogue is the worst possible choice. The North’s Foreign Ministry statement has changed the nature of the nuclear issue,” the South’s conservative Dong-A Ilbo newspaper said in one of several strongly worded editorials.

“North Korea may be thinking that it can control the nuclear issue. That would be a gross mistake,” it said.


Mr Ralph Cossa, president of the Pacific Forum CSIS think tank, said the North had crossed an important threshold and the USA must make sure it was on the same page as its allies because divisiveness would play into North’s hands. “... It seems foolish, and foolhardy, to ignore the intended message,” Mr Cossa wrote in a paper after the declaration. “This sounds to me like an unambiguous declaration by North Korea that it is a nuclear weapons state.”

Rice said Washington had assumed since the mid-1990s that North Korea could make nuclear weapons. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said he did not know whether it did indeed have a bomb.

Nuclear proliferation experts said North Korea had probably produced enough plutonium for as many as eight weapons but no one could say for certain if it could assemble and deliver one.

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