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NKorea says may retain nukes, raises border tensions with Seoul

Some analysts believe Pyongyang, while willing to stop producing plutonium, will never hand over its bombs and seeks tacit acceptance as a nuclear power.
by Staff Writers
Seoul (AFP) Jan 17, 2009
North Korea said Saturday it may keep its nuclear weapons and threatened confrontation with South Korea, staking out a tough position three days before US President-elect Barack Obama takes office.

Pyongyang's foreign ministry said it would retain its atomic weaponry as long as it feels under nuclear threat from Washington.

Hours later, its military called for an "all-out confrontational posture" against South Korea, prompting Seoul to order its armed forces on alert along the land and sea border.

"Even if the DPRK (North Korea)-US diplomatic relations become normalised, our status as a nuclear-armed state will never change as long as the US nuclear threat to us remains, even to the slightest degree," the foreign ministry said.

A ministry spokesman, quoted by official media, said it was a "miscalculation" for the US to consider normalised ties -- as envisaged under a 2007 disarmament pact -- a reward for the communist state abandoning nuclear weapons.

"What we earnestly desire is not the normalisation of DPRK-US ties but the strengthening of nuclear deterrence in every possible way," the spokesman added.

"We have made nuclear weapons not in order... to seek the normalisation of ties with the US or economic assistance but to protect us from US nuclear threats.

"We can live without the normalisation of ties with the US but we cannot survive without the nuclear deterrence."

Later in the day a spokesman for the North Korean army's General Staff, in an unusually strongly-worded statement, warned it would not allow intrusions by South Korean vessels into disputed waters in the Yellow Sea -- the scene of bloody naval clashes in 1999 and 2002.

"Now that traitor Lee Myung-Bak and his group opted for confrontation... our revolutionary armed forces are compelled to take an all-out confrontational posture to shatter them," he said in reference to South Korea's conservative president.

The spokesman said the military would "preserve" the sea border claimed by the North in the Yellow Sea, "as long as there are ceaseless intrusions into the territorial waters of our side".

The sea border was unilaterally drawn by United Nations forces after the 1950-53 war but the North refuses to accept it.

Inter-Korean relations have been frosty for months after Lee linked major economic aid to progress in the North's nuclear disarmament.

The North staged its first nuclear test in 2007 but four months later reached a now-stalled disarmament deal with the US and four regional powers.

Analysts said both the North's statements Saturday were aimed at Obama and not South Korea.

By raising military tensions with Seoul it wants to persuade him to push ahead with the deal despite other world crises he faces, they said.

"Both the statements from the General Chief of Staff and from the foreign ministry are a message to the United States," Choi Jin-Wook, of the Korea Institute for National Unification, told Yonhap news agency.

US Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton said Tuesday the Obama administration would pursue a "very aggressive effort" against North Korea's alleged atomic weapons proliferation.

She backed the six-party talks which began in 2003 and group the two Koreas, the US, China, Russia and Japan, but indicated there could also be bilateral contacts.

Obama has stated his willingness to talk to America's enemies such as North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il.

The 2007 pact calls for the scrapping of nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula in return for energy aid to the North, normalised relations between the North and the United States and Japan and a formal peace pact.

North Korea is disabling its plutonium-producing nuclear plants and has made a declaration of its nuclear activities under the latest uncompleted phase of the pact.

But the last round of six-party talks in December ended in stalemate, with the two sides unable to agree how the North's nuclear declaration should be independently verified. No date has been set for the next round.

Negotiations have not started on the final phase, which would involve the surrender of weapons and plutonium stockpiles and normalised relations.

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Seoul rejects NKorea's demand to search SKorea for nukes
Seoul (AFP) Jan 15, 2009
Seoul Thursday rejected North Korea's fresh demand for verification that all US nuclear weapons have been withdrawn from South Korea, saying there are no such weapons on its territory.

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