Russia denies NKorea threatened nuclear test at crisis talks
MOSCOW (AFP) Aug 29, 2003
Russia's top negotiator on North Korea on Friday denied claims by US officials that Pyongyang had threatened to conduct a nuclear test during crisis talks in Beijing.

His comments appeared to be aimed at calming the heated atmosphere between Washington and North Korea after Pyongyang vowed to strengthen its nuclear arsenal if Washington failed to provide guarantees for the security of the regime.

"The North Korean delegation did not make such a declaration" at the Beijing talks, RIA Novosti quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Losyukov as saying.

Earlier Washington officials had said that a defiant North Korea threatened to formally declare itself a nuclear power and conduct a nuclear test in the near future.

They said North Korea's envoy to the talks, Kim Yong-Il, made the bombshell declaration in front of the US delegation and envoys from Russia, China, South Korea and Japan on talks on the 10-month-old nuclear crisis.

But Russia's top Asia hand suggested that US officials had misunderstood Kim's comments even as the official North Korean news agency issued a statement that closely corroborated Washington's report.

"I think the North Koreans were stating that if they continue to feel a threat coming from the United States or other nations, then they will need to continue working to strengthen their national security, including in its nuclear program," he was quoted a saying by RIA Novosti.

"Only then they might show us something," he said in reference to a nuclear test.

"But there were no such threats from North Korea at the six-way talks," Losyukov stressed.

Losyukov spoke moments before Pyongyang's own KCNA mouthpiece said the North already has a nuclear weapon and will step up its program if Washington failed to issue the Stalinist state a formal security guarantee.

"In this case the DPRK (North Korea) cannot dismantle its nuclear deterrent force but will have no option but to increase it."

Russia, viewed as one of the few remaining allies of North Korea, was taking part in multilateral talks for the first time.

Losyukov made several misleading statements to the Russian press during the meeting.

He predicted Thursday, for example, that the six nations would conclude their three-day talks Friday by signing a joint communique -- which they did not do.

Losyukov also said all sides had agreed to meet again within two months in Beijing to continue the negotiations. Several other diplomats said such negotiations should continue but were cautious not to specify a date or location.

On Friday, the Russian official predicted that the US-North Korean standoff might at some point be discussed among the six nations' heads of state.

"Most likely, it will become necessary at a certain stage to raise the level of negotiations to the very highest -- using direct contacts between heads of state," Losyukov said.

But he again stressed there were "no dramatic developments" in Beijing as had been suggested by US officials.

Losyukov also said the North Korean delegation had at one point "expressed doubts about the need for continuing the negotiation" and threatened to walk out on the talks -- as did during their previous contact with US officials in China. "But in the end they did not," he said.