North Korea has denied that it is producing nuclear weapons, even though it has withdrawn from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Pyongyang also says it might verify it has no nuclear weapons.
In an interview with Reuters news agency Wednesday, a senior North Korean foreign ministry official said the North has no intention of producing nuclear weapons. Ri Hui Chol also expressed frustration with Washington for refusing to negotiate a nonaggression treaty to settle the crisis on the Korean Peninsula.
Mr. Ri told Reuters his nation would retaliate against any U.S. attack, but also said the best solution would be a peaceful dialogue. He said that if Washington drops what he calls "its hostile policies" toward the North, Pyongyang may even be able to offer verification that it is not making nuclear weapons. He asked Britain to urge Washington to engage in direct talks with Pyongyang.
The Bush administration has said repeatedly that it is open to talking with the North, but no meeting has been arranged. Washington also favors involving other countries in the issue, such as South Korea, which Pyongyang opposes.
Mr. Ri's statements come just hours before the board of International Atomic Energy Agency meets to discuss the issue. The IAEA is expected to refer North Korea to the U.N. Security Council for violating global nuclear pacts. The Council could impose sanctions or take military action to force the North into compliance.
The crisis began five months ago when the United States said North Korea admitted having a secret nuclear arms program despite a pledge to abandon such efforts. Pyongyang has since expelled U.N. nuclear inspectors, re-opened an old nuclear facility and withdrawn from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
On Wednesday, Javier Solana, the European Union foreign policy director, wrapped up meetings in Seoul to discuss North Korea. He warned that sanctions would only escalate tensions. Mr. Solana pledged to lead an EU mission to North Korea soon. He had hoped to go directly from Seoul, but has been unable to secure a meeting with the North's leader Kim Jong Il.
Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said Wednesday he hopes North Korea will halt its nuclear program. During a televised debate with Japanese legislators, Mr. Koizumi says North Korea needs to obey international law and that it would benefit if it became less isolated from the world community.
South Korea also pushed the North to resolve the dispute. Officials from the two Korea's met Wednesday for talks on economic cooperation. According to South Korean news reports, Seoul's delegates told their Northern counterparts that a prompt resolution of the nuclear stand-off is key to moving ahead on joint projects to help the North's impoverished economy.