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North Korea Denies Uranium Program, Warns of 'Grave Impact' on Nuclear Diplomacy

North Korea is warning it may slow or even halt its cooperation in dismantling key nuclear facilities, amid a dispute with Washington over an alleged uranium enrichment program. Pyongyang has also conducted a short range missile test, widely seen by experts as a show of displeasure with hardening policy approaches by South Korea and the United States. VOA Seoul correspondent Kurt Achin reports.

North Korea issued one of its most explicit and vehement denials Friday of U.S. allegations it pursued a secret uranium enrichment program and may have lent nuclear assistance to Syria.

Official North Korean media quoted a foreign ministry spokesman as saying Pyongyang has never "even dreamed of" engaging in uranium enrichment activities or nuclear cooperation with other countries.

South Korean officials say a dispute over those allegations is the reason why North Korea is nearly four months late in providing a nuclear declaration it promised by the end of 2007. The North Korean spokesman warned Friday the dispute could have a "grave impact" on Pyongyang's cooperation in disabling key nuclear facilities.

Separately, North Korea test fired several short range missiles into waters off its western coast. Lee Dong-kwan, spokesman for South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, says Seoul is responding calmly.

He says President Lee views the launches as a routine military exercise.

North Korea does conduct occasional missile tests, even when tensions on the peninsula are relatively low. However, there is widespread agreement among analysts here in Seoul that the timing of the test suggests it represents are a show of displeasure by the North.

Just a day earlier, Pyongyang expelled South Korean managers from a joint industrial park in the North Korean city of Kaesong. The move was a response to a South Korean warning that continued stalling by the North in multinational nuclear talks could threaten the pace of the zone's expansion.

More broadly, President Lee - a conservative who was inaugurated last month - has made it clear he intends to depart from previous administrations' policies of no-strings-attached aid and concessions to the North. He says future ties with the North are preconditioned on cooperation on the nuclear issue, human rights, and South Korean citizens believed to have been abducted by the North's agents.

Kim Yong-hyun, a North Korea scholar at Donguk University in Seoul, says the North's actions fit a pattern.

He says up until this week, North Korea has harshly criticized South Korean conservatives in its internal media. Now, however, those criticisms are evolving into concrete actions.

South Korean officials say they will not alter what they describe as Seoul's "practical" new approach toward relations with the North. They are expected to consult with Washington's main envoy on the nuclear issue, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, when he visits Seoul next week.