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N.Korea vows to boost deterrent, US rejects demand
Updated: 2004-10-24 11:02

North Korea threatened on Saturday to double the size of its nuclear deterrent and the United States rejected its conditions for a resumption of talks, leaving the two nations in a dangerous stalemate.

A day after North Korea set three conditions for returning to six-party talks on its nuclear programs, it warned Washington to drop its "hostile policy" aimed at unseating the DPRK leadership or face a more potent atomic arsenal.

"If the United States persistently pursues its confrontational hostile policy toward the DPRK (the Democratic People's Republic of Korea) from the viewpoint of escapism, it will only compel the DPRK to double its deterrent force," the main newspaper in North Korea said in a commentary published by the official KCNA news agency.

North Korea has never said how many nuclear weapons it has and usually refers ambiguously to its "deterrent force." U.S. officials say the North could have between two and eight weapons.

On Friday, North Korea said it would consider returning to the talks if Washington drops its hostile policy, is prepared to join a compensation package in return for the North freezing its programs and allows discussion on South Korea nuclear experiments.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell, who is in the region seeking to revive negotiations, said the demands could be addressed in the six-party talks, which also include China, Japan, South Korea and Russia.

But he ruled out considering improving a U.S. proposal until North Korea, which has refused to return to the talks since June, shows what it will give in exchange at the negotiating table.

"Any outstanding issues that are holding up the progress should be dealt with in the context of the (six-party) discussions, not by press statements or rhetoric going back and forth," Powell told reporters on his plane en route to Tokyo.

The United States has offered compensatory aid -- from South Korea and Japan rather than Washington -- in return for a freeze as a first step to Pyongyang dismantling its atomic projects.

The United States has been leading slow-moving negotiations since the latest nuclear crisis erupted two years ago when its diplomats said North Korea admitted it was running a covert uranium enrichment program. Pyongyang has since denied this.


On his first trip to the region for 18 months, Powell will also visit China and South Korea and seek to convince his negotiation partners the Bush administration will remain committed to the talks.

But some senior U.S. officials have misgivings about the talks and would prefer to confront and isolate North Korea and presidential Democratic candidate Sen. John Kerry has criticized the administration's mixed signals.

Pyongyang has suggested Powell's trip is merely to keep up the appearance during President Bush's reelection campaign that he is committed to the six-party talks.

Washington suspects Pyongyang is stalling to wait for the outcome of the Nov. 2 election because Kerry favors bilateral talks, which North Korea hopes would lead to more concessions.

The North Korean commentary on Saturday said the root cause of the hostile U.S. policy was that Washington wanted to retain military influence in the region.

The United States holds an international naval exercise in the region next week aimed at stifling any North Korean proliferation.

In a separate report on Saturday, KCNA listed what it said was South Korea's secret nuclear weapons developments over decades. Seoul denies having such a program.

Pyongyang said South Korea was seeking to build a nuclear submarine as part of what it calls Seoul's nuclear-arms scheme and urged it to drop the plan immediately, South Korea's Yonhap News reported on Saturday.

South Korea has denied the submarine plan, which was first raised early this year.

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