BEIJING: North Korea escalated a nuclear crisis yesterday with a threat to end a moratorium on missile testing on the day it became the world's first country to withdraw from a treaty preventing the spread of atomic weapons.
The North’s ambassador to Beijing accused Washington of failing to respond positively to the 1999 moratorium, meant as a gesture toward opening talks on normalising relations.
“Because all agreements have been nullified by the United States side, we believe we cannot go along with the self-imposed missile moratorium any longer,” Ambassador Choe Jin Su said at a news conference.
North Korea announced a freeze on testing of long-range missiles in September 1999, one year after test-firing a missile that flew over Japan and landed in the Pacific Ocean.
Choe’s comments came a day after the North declared its withdrawal from the global nuclear arms control treaty.
He called that step a “legitimate self-defence measure” prompted by US threats of a nuclear attack.
The ambassador said the North was willing to prove to the United States that it was not making nuclear weapons, but only if Washington renounced “hostile policies.” He did not respond to a reporter’s question about how such proof would be supplied.
Choe said the North had announced its missile moratorium in hopes that Washington would “renounce its hostile policies toward our country by taking very positive measures to normalise bilateral relations.”
The United States and the North’s isolated, hard line communist government fought on opposite sides in the 1950-53 Korean War and have never had diplomatic relations.
North Korea has repeatedly expressed a desire for official ties with Washington and a non-aggression pact.
North Korea is believed to have missiles that can reach any part of South Korea and most of Japan.
US officials say it is developing ballistic missiles that can reach Alaska and Hawaii with a payload of several hundred kilograms.
Choe also rejected criticism of North Korean missile exports, saying they were “entirely within our sovereignty.”
In Pyongyang yesterday, more than one million people massed to support their government’s decision to quit the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, a key treaty preventing the spread of atomic weapons, the official news agency said.
Senior officials joined the huge demonstrations in Pyongyang and Premier Hong Song Nam spoke to the crowds to give details of the government’s decision, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.
“People from all walks of life thronged to Kim Il-sung Square and other parts of the city, the meeting places, with burning hatred for the US imperialists,” KCNA said.
“If the US brings dark clouds of war to hang over this land, the army and the people (of North Korea) will remove the land of the US from the earth and root out the very source of evil and war,” the agency quoted one of the speakers as saying.
The communist state’s ruling party daily called on South Koreans to side with the North against the United States.
“All the Koreans should see through the US trite trick to perpetuate Korea’s division and turn out in an anti-US struggle for independence and demonstrate the strength and mettle of the Korean nation,” the Rodong Sinmun said in a commentary. No independent confirmation of the reported rally was available.
However, Pyongyang’s totalitarian communist rulers regularly report huge displays of popular support in the city, for example for festivals and for memorials to Kim Il-sung, founder of North Korea and father of current leader Kim Jong-il. Most are believed to be officially organised.
Speakers at the mass rally voiced full support for the decision to withdraw from the treaty, describing it as a legitimate measure of self-defence by their government, KCNA reported.
In Seoul, tens of thousands of South Korean Christians rallied in a mass prayer for peace on the Korean peninsula.
An estimated crowd of 30,000 filled the streets in front of the City Hall, praying for a peaceful solution to the nuclear crisis to be found through dialogue.
Scores of rightwing activists burned North Korean flags.
The rally, organised by conservatives, was considered a counter to a series of near-daily candlelight protests that began in November to mourn the deaths of two schoolgirls run over by a US army vehicle.
Resentment towards the United States over the accident in June that killed the girls and the acquittal by a US court martial of the two soldiers in the vehicle has been stoked by Washington’s hard line towards North Korea in the ongoing nuclear standoff. – Agencies
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