Monday, December 31, 2007

North Korea slams U.S. ahead of nuclear deadline

SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea, facing a looming deadline in a nuclear disarmament deal, blamed the United States on Monday for hurting the prospects for peace on the Korean peninsula with plans to attack the reclusive state.

North Korea is almost certain to miss an end-of-year deadline to give a full accounting of its nuclear arms programs under a disarmament-for-aid deal it struck earlier this year with regional powers, including the United States.

"The reality testifies once again that there is no change in the U.S. intention to invade us with force and occupy the whole of Korea, although the U.S. is uttering 'peace' and 'dialogue',"

the North's communist party newspaper said in a commentary.

"Dialogue and war attempts can't stand together."

The U.S. government has said Washington has no plans to attack North Korea.

In Washington, U.S. officials on Sunday said North Korea has not yet fully accounted for its nuclear activities.

"It is unfortunate that North Korea has not yet met its commitments by providing a complete and correct declaration of its nuclear programs and slowing down the process of disablement,"

State Department spokesman Tom Casey said in a statement.

In Tokyo on Monday, a Japanese Foreign Ministry official urged Pyongyang

"to provide a complete and correct declaration of all its nuclear programs as quickly as possible."

"It is unfortunate that this declaration has not been provided yet,"

the official said.

U.S. officials estimate North Korea has produced about 50 kg (110 lb) of plutonium, enough for about eight nuclear weapons, and launched a secret program to enrich uranium for weapons.

In early November, North Korea began disabling its ageing Yongbyon nuclear complex, which is also required under the nuclear deal. A U.S. official who has been on hand at the site north of Pyongyang said the North has been cooperating.

The process is the first tangible action North Korea has made to take apart its nuclear arms program since it began its quest for atomic weapons in earnest in the 1980s.

Analysts said the nuclear deal North Korea struck with China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States would not be jeopardized for now if the secretive state misses the deadline.

North Korea, which conducted its first nuclear test in October 2006, missed a separate deadline without retributions earlier this year to freeze its nuclear plant at Yongbyon because of a dispute over its international finances.

It lived up to its obligations once the row was settled.

If the North meets the conditions of the six-nation deal, the destitute state will receive 1 million tons of heavy fuel oil or equivalent aid and Washington would take it off its terrorism black list, which could help it tap into international finance.

A leading Chinese academic said on Monday it was important for all parties to the nuclear disarmament talks to continue influencing North Korea, and that was why they had taken a calm attitude over the deadline.

"There has been no strong evidence between February 13 and October 1 that North Korea has truly made up its mind to denuclearize,"

said Zhu Feng, director of Peking University's International Security Program.

"None of the parties involved are convinced yet that North Korea is really ready to denuclearize. Everyone was a bit disappointed but agreed the situation was not too bad,"

Zhu told Reuters.

"For now, the parties will try to find out if North Korea wants to add any new condition (for scrapping its nuclear programs)"

he added.

Zhu said the key for China, which hosts the six-party talks, was to coordinate with the United States, South Korea and Japan to discuss how to carry out the next steps.