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North Korea May Resume Missile Tests - 2003-01-11

In a move likely to raise tensions on the Korean Peninsula further, North Korea's ambassador to China has hinted his country might resume testing ballistic missiles.

Ambassador Choe Jin-su blames the United States for the dispute over North Korea's nuclear weapons program. He said Saturday that Washington has broken many agreements.

He says, therefore, that the Democratic People's Republic of Korea no longer feels bound by its promise to not test missiles. "The moratorium of our missile test fire will be of no exception now that the United States made all the agreements reached between the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] cease to be valid," said Ambassador Choe Jin-su.

He did not say when missile tests might resume.

North Korea caused a furor in 1998 when it fired a missile across Japan and out into the Pacific. It later said it would stop such test firings until the end of this year. Many defense analysts think Pyongyang has continued to develop long-range missiles, and is working to build one that could reach the western United States.

The comments about missile tests follow Friday's announcement that North Korea was pulling out of the global Non-proliferation Treaty, or NPT, which seeks to control the spread of nuclear weapons.

Ambassador Choe says Washington has threatened to attack North Korea with nuclear weapons, leaving his country with no choice but to pull out of treaties that bar the country from building a nuclear arsenal. "The withdrawal from the NPT is a legitimate self-defense measure, taken against U.S. moves to stifle our country," he said.

He did not say, however, whether North Korea has nuclear weapons or programs to develop them.

Dumping the treaty drew strong criticism from around the world.

The current crisis erupted in October when Washington said North Korea admitted it had a secret program to develop nuclear weapons. That violates international agreements, including a deal with the United States that shut down a North Korean nuclear facility capable of producing weapons-grade plutonium.

Pyongyang heated up its dispute with Washington last month by moving to restart the Yongbyon nuclear plant and expelling the U.N. experts who made sure the facility remained idle.

Ambassador Choe says for the time being, his country intends to use its nuclear facilities only for peaceful purposes, such as producing electricity. But he says if Washington does not "change its attitude" toward North Korea, that plan could be altered.

President Bush has said several times the United States has no intention of invading North Korea and wants a peaceful solution to the nuclear dispute.