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North Korea Blasts US Nuclear Report - 2002-03-13


North Korea has blasted as nuclear blackmail U.S. media reports that the United States is re-examining where to target its nuclear arsenal. The communist country says it will not remain what it terms a "passive onlooker" to the Pentagon's contingency plans against seven countries, including North Korea.

The official KCNA news agency in Pyongyang Wednesday blasted the Pentagon's 56-page report that reportedly contains suggestions for developing new types of nuclear arms. Such arms could possibly be used against Russia, China, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Syria, and North Korea - all countries believed to have or be developing weapons of mass destruction.

Pyongyang says the Bush Administration would be "grossly mistaken" if it ever tried to attack the North with nuclear weapons. It promised to meet such a threat with what it called "a strong countermeasure" that would end in a nuclear disaster for the United States.

With trademark ambiguity, North Korea did not specify what that countermeasure would be. It is also not clear if Pyongyang was implying it had nuclear weapons that could strike the United States and its neighbor to the South, where some 37,000 U.S. troops are based. The troops have been based there since the Korean War ended in 1953 in an armed truce, not a peace treaty.

Since U.S. newspapers revealed in the last week that the Pentagon had recently conducted the secret nuclear posture review, senior U.S. officials have sought to ease fears the United States is preparing for preemptive nuclear strikes on North Korea or other nations mentioned. In London Monday, Vice President Cheney described the report as a routine military planning and review, as required by Congress.

North Korea expert Paik Hak-soon in Seoul says he believes Pyongyang's threats reflect more strategy than a promise of war. "What North Korea is doing is basically to pressure the United States to rethink its very harsh, hard line toward North Korea. North Korea is not against improving relations with the United States. I personally don't think North Korea will abandon the promises made in the 1994 framework," Mr. Paik said.

Pyongyang's suspected nuclear weapons program brought it to the brink of conflict with Washington in 1994. A deal was struck to freeze the program in exchange for oil and western-built light water nuclear reactors.

Tension rose again in January 2001 when the Bush administration suspended talks with North Korea for six-months to conduct a policy review.

Washington has since offered to resume unconditional talks. But the North says it will not negotiate until President Bush drops its harsh view of the communist state, which he has referred to as being a part of an "axis of evil" run by a "despotic regime."

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