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N. Korea  Will Continue Developing Nuclear Weapons, UN Envoy Says - 2004-05-22

A U.N. envoy to North Korea says the country's officials have told him they intend to continue developing nuclear weapons programs. The prime minister of Japan says North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-Il, took a somewhat more conciliatory stance in talks they had.

U.N. envoy Maurice Strong arrived in Beijing Saturday, after a visit to the North Korean capital, where he met with officials, including military commanders and the head of North Korea's legislature.

Mr. Strong, who made the trip on behalf of the U.N. secretary-general, told reporters at the Beijing airport, the officials repeated warnings that they have been making for the past year.

"They look at their nuclear weapons as the best guarantee they have against a threat that they perceive from the United States," he said.

The standoff began in 2002, when U.S. officials said North Korea had admitted to restarting a nuclear weapons program in violation of international agreements.

Mr. Strong said officials in Pyongyang told him they are developing a nuclear deterrent force to prevent the United States from attacking North Korea, as it did Iraq. The U.N. envoy said the North Koreans continue to believe that threat is real.

"They are going to continue, they say, to develop that capability, until there is a security guarantee that they can rely on," said Maurice Strong.

The United States has said it has no plans to invade North Korea, but has insisted on the complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantling of North Korea's nuclear programs. Washington says North Korea must meet this condition before it discusses Pyongyang's demands for security guarantees and economic aid.

North Korean officials expressed frustration at technical talks this month, after the United States repeated this position, and accused Washington of not being sincere in its efforts to reach a settlement. Mr. Strong said Pyongyang officials told him they doubt the United States wants to make progress.

However, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, after a summit meeting with Mr. Kim in Pyongyang Saturday, said the North Korean leader made some conciliatory remarks about resolving the crisis through diplomacy.

Mr. Koizumi quoted Mr. Kim as saying he was aiming for a denuclearized Korean peninsula, and he hoped for a peaceful solution to the crisis through six-nation talks tentatively scheduled next month in Beijing. Two previous sets of high-level talks last August and February, involving China, Japan, North and South Korea, Russia and the United States, ended inconclusively.