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N. Korea Wants to Resolve Nuclear Crisis Peacefully - 2003-07-10

A North Korean official says his country is ready for dialogue or war in dealing with the crisis over Pyongyang's nuclear program. The comment came as talks were beginning with South Korean negotiators in Seoul.

North Korea's chief Cabinet councilor, Kim Ryong Song, says Pyongyang wants to resolve the nuclear issue peacefully. He made the comments just before a new round of meetings with South Korean officials Thursday.

Mr. Kim says, while North Korea is prepared for talks, his country is also ready for war, if others choose to go down that path. He then recited a Korean saying: "If your fists are weak, you can use them only to wipe your tears."

While Mr. Kim did not name a country, many observers say he was referring to the United States, which has been pressing Pyongyang to give up its nuclear program.

The South Korean delegates at the talks warned the North that it must not aggravate the nuclear dispute. The South also pushed North Korea to hold multilateral talks soon to resolve the issue.

The inter-Korean ministerial talks, which continue until Saturday, originally were to focus on joint projects, such as cross-border tourism and reunions of families divided by the border. But the meeting has been overshadowed by South Korean allegations that the North has taken key steps toward developing nuclear weapons, including tests of explosive devices for bombs.

Some intelligence agencies have said they think North Korea already has one or two bombs.

The South Korean intelligence revelations prompted some conservative groups in the country to burn North Korean flags and call for an end to aid to the impoverished North.

The United States, South Korea and Japan want North Korea to discuss the issue in multilateral talks. The North, however, wants direct talks with the United States, which Pyongyang views as its main adversary.

The dispute began last October, when U.S. officials said North Korea admitted it had a secret nuclear program, in violation of several international accords.

Since then, North Korea has responded to international pressure to give up the program by withdrawing from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and restarting an idled nuclear facility.