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N. Korean Diplomat: Halting Oil Shipments a Hostile Act by US - 2002-11-13

A North Korean diplomat has said halting oil shipments to the country would be a hostile act that could prompt a strong reaction from Pyongyang. The United States and its allies are considering whether to send more oil to North Korea after revelations that the country is developing nuclear weapons.

North Korea's Consul-General Ri To Sop in Hong Kong repeated his country's previous assertion that it has the right to have nuclear weapons. But in an interview with Reuters he would not confirm that his country actually has them.

Mr. Ri said the United States should abide by a 1994 agreement in which Pyongyang pledged to abandon an earlier nuclear program in return for oil shipments and two nuclear reactors to provide electricity. Washington has indicated it might not want to continue the oil shipments.

"This is another demonstration of a hostile activity from the USA side. Already we mentioned in our statement a new hostile activity could start a new clash and compel us to take a strong corresponding measure," Mr. Ri said.

He also repeated earlier demands from Pyongyang that the United States sign a non-aggression treaty before North Korea addresses what it terms "American security concerns."

"We are ready for war or dialogue. We prefer dialogue, but we will not move first. We will not beg for recognition from the hostile side," Mr. Ri said. Last month the United States revealed that North Korea was enriching uranium to use for nuclear weapons. Since then, Washington, Tokyo, and Seoul have held several rounds of talks to develop a strategy in dealing with the North's weapons program.

South Korea, Japan, the European Union, and the United States will attend the meeting Thursday in New York. Officials in Seoul and Tokyo already have said they favor continuing oil shipments.

One analyst said the timing of Pyongyang's demands shows that North Korea is watching how Iraq reacts to the U.N. resolution requiring Baghdad to disarm and submit to weapons inspections.

Song Young Sun is a senior researcher to the Korea Institute for Defense. "The way North Korea deals with this nuclear issue, I think they are following how Iraq reacted to the United States very carefully. If Iraq was submissive and unconditionally accepted, maybe North Korea (would) not push this idea as a precondition to talk about nuclear renouncement," he said. Mr. Ri's interview with Reuters is rare. North Korean diplomats normally have little contact with foreign journalists. In recent weeks Northern officials have made repeated statements defending their right to have nuclear weapons and asking the United States to sign a non-aggression pact.