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DPRK warns of nuclear war as US and ROK prepare for talks

THE Democratic People's Republic of Korea has warned of a nuclear war on the Korean Peninsula while vowing to step up its atomic bomb-making program in defiance of new United Nations sanctions.

The North's defiance presents a growing diplomatic headache for President Barack Obama as he prepares for talks tomorrow with his Republic of Korea counterpart on the North's missile and nuclear programs.

Republic of Korea President Lee Myung-bak told security-related ministers during an unscheduled meeting yesterday to "resolutely and squarely" cope with the North's latest threat, his office said. Lee was due to leave for the United States this morning.

A commentary in the North's main state-run Rodong Sinmun newspaper yesterday, carried by the official Korean Central News Agency, claimed the US had 1,000 nuclear weapons in South Korea. Another commentary published on Saturday in the state-run Tongil Sinbo weekly claimed the US had been deploying a vast amount of nuclear weapons in South Korea and Japan.

North Korea "is completely within the range of US nuclear attack and the Korean peninsula is becoming an area where the chances of a nuclear war are the highest in the world," the Tongil Sinbo commentary said.

Kim Yong-kyu, a spokesman at the US military command in Seoul, called the latest accusation "baseless," saying Washington has no nuclear bombs in South Korea. US tactical nuclear weapons were removed in 1991 as part of arms reductions following the Cold War.

South Korea's Unification Ministry issued a statement yesterday demanding the North stop stoking tension, abandon its nuclear weapons and return to dialogue with the South.

On Saturday, North Korea's Foreign Ministry threatened war on any country that dared to stop its ships on the high seas under the new sanctions approved by the UN Security Council last Friday as punishment for the North's latest nuclear test.

Light-water reactor

The statements are a huge setback for international attempts to rein in North Korea's nuclear ambitions following its nuclear test on May 25. It first tested a nuclear device in 2006.

In Saturday's statement, North Korea said it had been enriching uranium to provide fuel for its light-water reactor. It was the first public acknowledgment the North was running a uranium enrichment program in addition to its known plutonium-based program. The two radioactive materials are key ingredients in making atomic bombs.

North Korea says its nuclear program is a deterrent against the US, which it accuses of plotting to topple its government. The United States, which has 28,500 troops in South Korea, has repeatedly said it has no such intention.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the new UN penalties provide the necessary tools to help check North Korea's continued pursuit of nuclear weapons.

She said: "North Korea's pursuit of nuclear weapons and the capacity to deliver those weapons through missiles is not going to be accepted by the neighbors as well as the greater international community."


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