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Non-Aggression Pact Will Avoid Conflict, Says North Korea - 2002-12-16

Pyongyang's official newspaper says the Korean peninsula is on the "verge of war" and that the only way to avoid a conflict is for the United States to sign a non-aggression pact with North Korea.

Pyongyang regularly launches vitriolic attacks against the United States, but Monday's denunciation escalates the tone as tensions rise over North Korea's nuclear program.

In the state-run Rodong Shinmun, newspaper, Pyongyang warns that South Korea could not "escape from disasters nor can the United States go safe" if a war breaks out on the peninsula.

In the statement, North Korea repeated its demand for a non-aggression pact with the United States. Pyongyang has said in the past it will address international concerns about its nuclear program once a pact is signed.

The United States insists that Pyongyang scrap its nuclear program before discussions take place.

Washington revealed in October that Pyongyang admitted to having a nuclear weapons program, in violation of international agreements. Since then, the United States and its allies have cut off fuel oil shipments to pressure North Korea to give up the program.

Professor Lee Jung-Hoon of Seoul's Yonsei University said the communist country is engaging in its normal brinkmanship. "Do they want war? I don't think so. I mean, they're not suicidal. What they want is economic assistance, continuation of energy shipments, of course, including the heavy fuel oil," he said.

Tensions ratcheted up last week after Pyongyang announced it would revive an earlier nuclear program, frozen under a 1994 agreement with the United States.

North Korea threatened to remove seals and monitoring cameras from the old nuclear facilities after the International Atomic Energy Agency appeared to ignore its demands to remove the monitoring systems.

South Korean President Kim Dae-jung Monday repeated his call for a peaceful resolution to the crisis. In the United States, President George W. Bush, who identified North Korea as part of an "axis of evil" along with Iran and Iraq, has said he would like to resolve the matter through diplomatic means.