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N. Korea Warns of Capability to Strike US Targets - 2003-02-13

North Korea is warning that it can strike U.S. military targets around the world. The statement comes a day after the top U.S. intelligence officer said Pyongyang may have a nuclear-capable missile able to hit the west coast of the United States.

In an interview with Agence France Presse, a senior North Korean foreign ministry official said that if provoked, the North could strike U.S. military commands anywhere.

Ri Kwang Hyok also reportedly said the U.N. Security Council should investigate the United States for threatening North Korea with nuclear arms. He said the Council must discuss the United States' responsibility for the current dispute over Pyongyang's nuclear weapons.

The International Atomic Energy Agency on Wednesday declared that North Korea has breached U.N. safeguards. The agency referred the issue to the U.N. Security Council, which could impose sanctions on the communist state.

Lee Chung-min, a politics professor at Seoul's Yonsei University, thinks the North's statements Thursday should be viewed as brinkmanship. "I would not say that North Korea is going to undertake acts of terrorism because the North knows exactly what to expect if, unprovoked, it destroys U.S. or South Korean military facilities," says Mr. Lee. "That is basically a declaration of war and Pyongyang knows this very well. This is part of the North's hard bargaining."

Mr. Ri, the North Korean official, did not say how the country would mount an attack. He said, however, that North Korea's military will "take on the enemy where ever he is" if it needs to.

On Wednesday, the head of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency said North Korea may already be able to hit the U.S. West Coast with a nuclear missile.

Professor Lee of Yonsei University points out that the North also could attack in other ways. "They do not have to use ballistic missiles," he says. "If you look at North Korea's track record on terrorism against South Korean forces and installations, they have used commandos and submarines and all types of methods."

Worldwide tensions over North Korea have been escalating since October, when Washington said Pyongyang admitted it was violating a non-proliferation agreement. Since then, North Korea has restarted idle nuclear facilities, expelled U.N. inspectors and withdrawn from a global nuclear arms pact.

The North says its is not making nuclear weapons and wants to talk directly with the United States to resolve the crisis. Washington says it is willing to talk, but will not offer rewards for what it calls "nuclear blackmail".