North Korea denies nuclear testing reports
North Korea has denied reports that it might be preparing to test a nuclear weapon, calling them a U.S. "fabrication."
U.S. officials said earlier this month that North Korea appeared to be digging tunnels and building a reviewing stand in the Northeast and said these could be preparations for a nuclear test. At the time North Korea criticized the report, which was based on spy satellites, but did not deny it.
"The U.S. leadership has recently ... come out with a fabrication that there are some kind of missile tests and signs of an underground nuclear test," the Korean Central Television Station, the North's only nationwide network, said late Thursday. KCTS said the United States continued to use "very bellicose, abusive language" toward North Korea.
"Our army and people do not want a war or relations (with the United States) to worsen, but we also would not beg for dialogue and peace under any circumstances," KCTS said.
The country has stepped up its anti-U.S. rhetoric in recent days, repeating claims that Washington is preparing to unseat leader Kim Jong Il and refusing to rule out a pre-emptive attack of its own.
There has been a recent flurry of activity aimed at persuading Pyongyang to return to six-party nuclear talks, stalled since the third round ended last June.
Two weeks ago, U.S. State Department officials went to North Korea's office at the United Nations, reportedly to reiterate assurances that Washington recognizes North Korea's sovereignty and has no plans to attack, and to urge resumption of the talks that involve also South Korea, the United States, China, Japan and Russia.
South Korea and North Korea also held their first face-to-face talks in 10 months last week, with Seoul repeatedly bringing up the nuclear issue. Working-level talks were being held Friday on the makeup of a South Korean delegation that is to go to Pyongyang next month for the fifth anniversary of a historic summit accord.
North Korea claimed in February to have nuclear weapons, and international experts believe it has enough plutonium to build about six bombs. It said two weeks ago that it had removed 8,000 fuel rods from a reactor, a move that could allow it to harvest more weapons-grade plutonium.
A top State Department official predicted Thursday that North Korea's decision to remain isolated internationally will eventually lead to the collapse of its government. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said North Korea has shown no interest in taking lessons from the successes neighboring China has enjoyed from its reform program.
"It's a real problem," Hill said, alluding to North Korea's self-imposed isolation. "And it's a problem that will ultimately be their undoing."
Hill expressed frustration with North Korea's seeming focus on "small issues," such as the occasional pejorative comments in Washington, when it should give top priority to resolving the "monumental" issue of nuclear weapons development.
"We're talking about an issue that would profoundly affect the future of North Korea," he said. "Are they serious?" he asked. "I can't answer that right now."