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N. Korea Warns of Clash Unless US Agrees to Direct Talks on Nuclear Program


North Korea is warning that unless the United States agrees to direct talks on the North's nuclear program, a clash between the two nations could be unavoidable. The comments come one day after Washington formally protested the North's interception of a U.S. reconnaissance plan in international airspace over the Sea of Japan earlier this month.

North Korea is accusing the United States of evading responsibility for the mounting nuclear crisis on the Korean Peninsula and says this could lead to conflict. Through its state-run media, the North lashed out Tuesday at a U.S.-led proposal for multilateral talks to resolve the simmering dispute.

Washington says regional nations must be involved in talks because the North's nuclear ambitions could have global ramifications. But the North has repeatedly called for one-on-one talks with Washington, and also demands it sign a non-aggression pact.

The Bush Administration has said it is willing to talk to the North, but refuses to give in to nuclear blackmail or sign a non-aggression treaty. The United States also led a push in recent months for the U.N. Security Council to debate North Korea's violation of nuclear safeguards, and the Council is set to debate it in the near future.

Some U.S. based critics, such as Derek Mitchell, Senior Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, are also hopeful that President Bush will work toward direct talks with the isolated communist state. "There is no alternative to direct talks. We have to sit down face to face. Even if we are very firm with them, at least start a process where we can exchange perspectives and put forward our vision for how we can get out of this," he says. "The alternative is not just brinkmanship, but going over the cliff where North Korea will develop nuclear weapons."

The crisis erupted in October, when U.S. officials said Pyongyang admitted having a secret nuclear weapons program in violation of international accords. The United States and its allies suspended fuel shipments. The North responded by expelling U.N. monitors, withdrawing from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and reopening banned nuclear facilities.

The North's latest rhetorical barrage comes one day after Washington delivered an official diplomatic protest to North Korea. It involved an incident earlier this month in which North Korean fighter jets intercepted a U.S. spy plane, which was on a mission in international airspace over the Sea of Japan.

North Korea also leveled accusations at South Korea Tuesday, accusing its opposition Grand National Party of offering it massive aid before the South's December presidential election. The North says the conservative GNP sent a secret envoy to Pyongyang before the poll and promised to provide funds to the impoverished state if it won the race. But its candidate lost to Roh Moo-hyun, who took office last month. The GNP firmly denies the story.

The North's claims come amid a heated dispute in South Korea over an alleged bribe to secure the 2000 summit between former president Kim Dae-jung and Northern leader Kim Jong Il.

The GNP alleges that hundreds of millions of dollars was secretly remitted to the North, but President Kim says the transfer was merely a payment from South Korea's Hyundai business group in return for rights to develop various inter-Korean projects.