SEOUL: North Korea is threatening to develop a nuclear arsenal to deter US hostility and reduce its dependence on conventional weapons so that it can divert resources to rebuilding its shattered economy.
North Korea has privately told US officials that it already has nuclear bombs and plans to build more, but on Monday the communist state publicly stated for the first time its intention to build a nuclear arsenal.
If the United States doesn't stop its hostility, North Korea “will have no option but to build up a nuclear deterrent force,'' North Korea's official KCNA news agency said. North Korea also for the first time linked its nuclear efforts to rebuilding its moribund economy, saying the programme would allow a reduction of spending on conventional weapons.
In Santiago, Chile, US Secretary of State Colin Powell dismissed the North Korean claim as nothing new, and said Washington would not change its strategy.
“We believe that North Korea threatens the region,'' Powell said on Monday. “And we believe the region should come together and make sure that North Korea knows that this will not be tolerated.''
Despite its economic plight, North Korea keeps a 1.1 million-member military, the world's fifth largest. Its “army-first'' policy calls on its hunger-stricken population to bear the economic hardship required to build a strong military to fight the United States. Its news media churn out daily propaganda filled with anti-American hate.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said on Monday that North Korea was “acknowledging what the world knows, and that is that it has created a circumstance where its own people are suffering as a result of the decisions that the government has made to (deprive) its own people of the basic resources they need.''
Reaffirming the need for a multilateral approach, Powell said, “We cannot allow North Korea to dictate to us who they will speak to on this issue.''
The Yomiuri, Japan's largest newspaper, yesterday quoted an anonymous US official as saying that North Korea might soon agree to participate in expanded multilateral talks.
The talks – between the United States, North Korea, China, Japan and South Korea – could be held as early as next month, the official was quoted as saying. US Embassy officials here and Tokyo had no immediate comment. – AP