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N.Korea says Pakistan nuclear confession a lie
Updated: 2004-02-10 13:46

A Pakistani scientist's confession that he sold nuclear weapons technology to North Korea was a "sheer lie" cooked up by the United States to justify an invasion, North Korea said on Tuesday.

The father of Pakistan's nuclear arms programme, Abdul Qadeer Khan, said last week he had sold nuclear secrets to Libya and two countries that President George W. Bush has labelled part of an "axis of evil", North Korea and Iran.

Khan's confession came three weeks before North Korea was scheduled to join the United States, China, Japan, Russia and South Korea for a second round of talks aimed at ending the North's nuclear weapons programme.

North Korea has long refuted US assertions that it had been pursuing an atomic weapons programme using highly enriched uranium.

US officials said the North Koreans had admitted to such a programme in October 2002 when confronted with evidence of efforts to procure equipment to enrich uranium for bombs.

The confrontation led to North Korea withdrawing from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and taking plutonium rods out of storage, an essential step to developing weapons.

In the North's first reaction to the revelations out of Pakistan, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said the United States had fabricated Khan's story to derail the nuclear talks and lay the groundwork for an Iraq-style invasion.

"The United States is now hyping the story about the transfer of nuclear technology to the DPRK by a Pakistani scientist in a bid to make the DPRK's enriched uranium programme sound plausible," said the spokesman in a statement published by Pyongyang's official KCNA news agency.

"This is nothing but a mean and groundless propaganda," the spokesman said, adding that Khan's disclosures are such a "sheer lie that the DPRK does not bat an eyelid even a bit".

DPRK stands for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, North Korea's official title.

"This is aimed to scour the interior of the DPRK on the basis of a legitimate mandate and attack it just as what it did in Iraq in the end and invent a pretext to escape isolation and scuttle the projected six-way talks," it said.

Khan's admission he had sold the nuclear weapons technology made North Korea "realise once again what a just measure it took to build nuclear deterrent force", the spokesman said.

After confessing on television to blackmarket nuclear technology dealings and absolving Pakistan's military and government of blame, Khan was pardoned by President Pervez Musharraf in an apparent effort to lay the controversy to rest.

The United States has strongly defended Musharraf's handling of the scandal, reflecting a balancing act between its usual aggressive stance on punishing proliferation and its firm support for the Pakistani leader, a key ally in the US anti-terror war.

Meanwhile, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who has been Beijing's point man on the North, will visit Seoul this week to lay the groundwork for the six-nation talks.

He will meet South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon and Deputy Foreign Minister Lee Soo-hyuck during a three-day visit that starts Friday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday.

Lee led the South Korean team in the first round of six-nation talks in August, which ended without progress.

The nuclear dispute flared in October 2002 when US officials said North Korea admitted running the uranium-enriching program in violation of international agreements.

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