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North/South Korea: South Urges North Not To Aggravate Nuclear Dispute

Prague, 10 July 2003 (RFE/RL) -- South Korea today warned its northern neighbor not to aggravate a nuclear crisis on the Korean Peninsula.

The warning follows allegations by officials in Seoul yesterday that North Korea has taken further steps toward developing nuclear weapons. The South Koreans are urging North Korea to abandon its quest for nuclear arms.

North Korea's chief delegate, Kim Ryong-song, said today that Pyongyang hopes to resolve the nuclear dispute peacefully. But in a remark seen by analysts as a reference to the heavy U.S. military presence on the peninsula, the North Korean official said his country would be prepared "to go to war" if necessary.

"We are mentally prepared both for talks, if certain foreign forces want dialogue, and to go to war if they want war," he said.

Kim made the remarks following talks in Seoul today with South Korean officials. South Korean Unification Minister Jeong Se-hyun said he told Kim the international community is ready to help poverty-stricken North Korea if it gives up its drive for nuclear weapons.

"Because there are demands from the international community and from logic itself, by which the issue should be solved, we should consider a balance in the [inter-Korean] cooperation," Jeong said.

Yesterday, the chairman of the South Korean parliament's Intelligence Committee, Kim Deuk-kyu, alleged that North Korea had recently reprocessed spent nuclear fuel rods from the controversial Yongbyon nuclear-power plant and had tested triggers for atomic explosions.

The official said the information came through South Korea's National Intelligence Service. "We have had a report which estimates North Korea has recently reprocessed a small number of the 8,000 [nuclear] fuel rods it was keeping at Yongbyon," he said.

Analysts say yesterday's allegations by Seoul are likely to agitate China, which has been trying to broker a second round of negotiations on the nuclear crisis following face-to-face talks during April in Beijing between officials from North and South Korea.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan told a news conference in Beijing today that his government was not aware of any efforts by North Korea to reprocess spent nuclear fuel rods or to test triggers for atomic explosions.

Kong reiterated China's opposition to the emergence of nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula, saying that "denuclearization of the peninsula must be ensured."

Kong also said he had not heard Chinese President Hu Jintao and South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun discuss the allegations of North Korean nuclear developments during a meeting in Beijing earlier this week.

But Kong confirmed that the Chinese and South Korean presidents had reached consensus that the peninsula should be free of nuclear weapons and that the dispute over North Korea's nuclear-weapons programs should be resolved through a peaceful dialogue.

The United States accuses Pyongyang of violating a 1994 deal in which Pyongyang promised to stop developing nuclear weapons in exchange for economic aid.

Officials in Pyongyang have said they want one-on-one negotiations with the United States on the nuclear dispute along with a nonaggression pact with Washington.

The administration of U.S. President George W. Bush has said it will not be blackmailed by North Korean nuclear developments. The United States has offered to discuss the nuclear dispute with North Korea in a multilateral context.