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North Korea Seeks to Build Up Military

North Korea is calling on its citizens to build up the military to resist what it calls a threat from the United States. Top South Korean diplomats are holding talks in Beijing and elsewhere to defuse tensions over North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

A New Year message on North Korea's government controlled media called on citizens "to build a powerful nation" around the army to resist the United States. Pyongyang has said Washington is threatening to use nuclear weapons on the isolated Stalinist state.

Tensions have been rising for more than two months, after Washington revealed that North Korea admitted it violated international agreements by working to build nuclear weapons. Last month, Pyongyang moved to restart a frozen nuclear reactor that can produce raw materials for bombs. On Tuesday, North Korea expelled officials from the United Nations nuclear monitoring agency.

South Korea is dispatching top-level diplomats to Japan, Russia, and China to discuss the issue. South Korea's Deputy Foreign Minister Lee Tae-sik has arrived in Beijing for talks that start Thursday.

China is North Korea's neighbor, closest friend and major trading partner. Other nations hope Beijing can persuade Pyongyang to stop its nuclear program.

A senior U.S. envoy is also set to visit South Korea and Japan later this month for talks on the North Korean issue. Yan Xuetong is the head of the Qinghua International Relations Research Institute in Beijing. He says the diplomatic missions send a hopeful message, but it is not certain that they will succeed in avoiding conflict. Mr. Yan says Washington is probably too busy with Iraq right now to launch a military strike on North Korea. But he says after a conflict with Iraq, it is hard to know if Washington will continue to seek a peaceful solution to its dispute with Pyongyang.

But President Bush said Tuesday he expects a peaceful resolution to the crisis over North Korea's renewed program to build nuclear bombs.

North Korea says it is restarting its old nuclear facilities to generate electricity. The facilities were shut down in 1994, when Pyongyang pledged to give up programs that could produce nuclear weapons in return for fuel aid from Washington and its allies. The United States, however, has stopped fuel shipments to the country because North Korea's new weapons program.