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N. Korea Hints it May Test Nuclear Deterrent Capability - 2003-10-16

North Korea says it is prepared to reveal what it calls its nuclear deterrent, a statement that is being interpreted as a sign the nation may be preparing to openly test a nuclear weapon. The comments come ahead of what the United States expects will be a second round of nuclear disarmament talks with the North next month.

A North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman declared Pyongyang would put its nuclear deterrent on display at what was termed "the appropriate time." It's the first time in the year-long stand-off with the United States over Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions that the North has threatened to show the world what nuclear weapons it may have.

The United States believes Kim Jong-Il's government has reprocessed enough spent nuclear fuel rods to have made several nuclear bombs. Earlier this month, the North said it had reprocessed 8,000 such rods and was using the plutonium to further enhance its nuclear deterrent.

But Bush administration officials are playing down this latest threat, with Secretary of State Colin Powell dismissing it as nothing new. "I don't know what they mean. They've said things like that before," he said.

Still, the North Korean announcement appeared to be a move to step up the pressure on the United States ahead of a second round of six-party talks intended to get the reclusive communist nation to abandon nuclear weapons. A first round in August ended without agreement, with Washington rejecting North Korean demands that it first offer to sign a non-aggression treaty.

Earlier this year, President Bush said he would not tolerate a nuclear-armed North Korea. As he arrives in Asia Friday, the issue is expected to be on the agenda when he meets with American allies in the region, ahead of what State Department spokesman Adam Ereli expects will be a second round of disarmament talks with North Korea and its neighbors next month. "That's what we're working towards," he said. "That's what the Chinese are very ably and seriously trying to bring about."

But no date has yet been set for the next round of talks.