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N. Korea Renews Threat to Build Up Nuclear Force - 2003-09-03

Using its parliament as a mouthpiece, North Korea has reiterated its threat to build up its "nuclear deterrent force," and stated that it has "no interest" in further multination talks on ending its nuclear-weapons program. The United States and the North's neighbors continue to plan for a possible second round of talks on the issue.

Official North Korean media report that the country's Supreme People's Assembly had approved the leadership's decision to expand the country's "nuclear deterrent force." There was no information on the nature of the expansion, or on what weapons the North might already possess.

A North Korean news broadcaster says there is "no choice" but to continue with nuclear deterrence "for the purpose of self-defense."

Official news reports said the assembly, which operates at the will of the North Korean leadership, approved a statement by the North Korean Foreign Ministry, that Pyongyang had "no interest or expectations" in further negotiations to end the 11-month-old nuclear dispute.

The assembly has no known decision-making powers, and its reported actions are seen as a way of broadcasting the leadership's thinking to the world.

A North Korean government spokesman also announced on television that the parliament had re-elected Kim Jong Il as head of the military. He has held this post, the most powerful in the nation, for most of the past 10 years.

The reports said a cabinet reorganization had been carried out, with Pak Pong Ju, a light industry specialist, as the new prime minister. Some analysts say the move reflects a greater emphasis on strengthening the North's devastated economy.

Last week, a first round of six-member talks on the nuclear crisis ended in Beijing. Ever since, Pyongyang has issued a series of contradictory statements on whether or not it will continue with the dialogue.

Elsewhere in the region, efforts to plan a possible second round of talks remain on track. A high-ranking Chinese delegation was in Seoul for talks with South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun. Officials said the South Korean leader asked China to continue with its efforts to find a peaceful solution to the dispute.

President Roh, meanwhile, has dispatched Foreign Minister Yoon Young-kwan to Washington for talks with Secretary of State Colin Powell.

In Japan, another issue related to North Korea could generate controversy. A North Korean cargo-passenger ferry, which police allege has been used for illicit trading and spying in the past, was due to arrive Thursday in the Japan's Niigata port.

During a port call last week, inspectors found safety problems on the boat, and said these had to be corrected before the boat would be allowed to visit again.

Niigata's governor says many local residents oppose the ferry's visits.