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North Korea Vows to Boost Military Arsenal

North Korea says it will build up its own arsenal to counter the United States' plan to enhance its fighting capability in South Korea. The threat comes during a visit to Japan by South Korea's president to discuss how Tokyo and Seoul can thwart Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions.

North Korea's central news agency says the country will build a deterrent force that would serve as a "merciless sledge-hammer to any aggressors."

The dispatch, issued late Saturday, is a reaction to news that the United States will spend $11 billion to boost its military capability in South Korea. Pyongyang says the U.S. plan is evidence that Washington plans to attack North Korea.

On Sunday, North Korea's Rodong Sinmun newspaper said the United States and Japan would be responsible for any "catastrophic situation" on the Korean Peninsula. The newspaper says the recent summit between President Bush and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi demonstrated that Washington and Tokyo are trying to stifle North Korea.

The new rhetoric coincides with the visit to Tokyo by South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun. Although he and Mr. Koizumi said their countries will not tolerate a nuclear-armed North Korea, they did not agree on how to deal with the issue.

Washington and Tokyo appear to favor economically isolating North Korea, while Seoul discourages any talk of sanctions.

President Roh on Sunday took questions from the Japanese public in the studio of a Tokyo television station.

The South Korean leader, on the Tokyo Broadcasting System program, tries to allay Japanese fears about North Korea's ballistic missiles and suspected nuclear weapons program. Mr. Roh says South Koreans are less worried than the Japanese because they know that North Korea is weak.

Mr. Roh, who completes a four-day visit to Tokyo on Monday, is getting a cool reception in the Japanese print media. Japanese newspapers on Sunday expressed concern that Mr. Roh's government, which has been in office for three months, is taking too soft an approach toward North Korea.

The Japanese have grown increasingly critical of North Korea. The country was stunned when North Korea test fired a ballistic missile over its main island in 1998.

Last year, anger rose when Pyongyang admitted abducting Japanese citizens and failed to credibly account for the fate of some of them.

Tensions have risen further since October, as evidence has come out that North Korea is trying to build nuclear weapons, in violation of several international accords it has signed.