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US Congressmen say North Korea Admits to Possessing Nuclear Weapons - 2003-06-02

A group of U.S. congressmen has returned from a visit to North Korea and they say officials there admitted having nuclear weapons. A top U.S. defense official says the admission means a way must be found to verifiably end North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

Representative Curt Weldon led the delegation of four congressmen to Pyongyang. In Seoul on Monday, he reported that North Korea's nuclear program appears to be growing. "They admitted to having nuclear arms and capabilities at this moment. And they admitted to an effort to expand their nuclear production program," he said.

Mr. Weldon quoted North Korean officials as saying they were building the weapons in response to the U.S. led war on Iraq and the ouster of the Saddam Hussein government there.

The congressmen, who spent three days in Pyongyang, say they still are optimistic that the international dispute over the North's nuclear programs can be resolved peacefully. North Korea is in violation of a number of international commitments it has made to remain nuclear free.

The congressmen did not travel to North Korea as envoys of the U.S. government and they did not carry a message from President Bush to Pyongyang.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz says North Korea's nuclear efforts are the biggest threat to regional stability.

Mr. Wolfowitz, who was finishing a two-day visit to Seoul, said Monday the United States lacks detailed information about the North's weapons programs, but takes Pyongyang's claims seriously. "The fact that we can't definitively say underscores the fact that what we really need here is a verifiable end to whatever nuclear program that they do have," he said.

Mr. Wolfowitz says he hopes North Korea will concentrate more on taking care of its impoverished citizens. But if Pyongyang engages in aggression on the Korean Peninsula, he warned that the response from Washington and its allies' would be "united, immediate, and devastatingly effective."

North Korea has been pushing for one-on-one talks with the United States to discuss its nuclear programs. The Bush administration has said the only appropriate forum for discussions would involve other nations in the region.

Tensions between Washington and Pyongyang have been high since last October when U.S. officials first said North Korea admitted running a secret nuclear weapons program.