TOKYO, Feb. 10 -- North Korea declared Thursday that it had produced nuclear weapons to defend itself from the United States and that it had suspended participation in multinational talks to halt its arms program.
The announcement provoked the Bush administration and its partners negotiating with North Korea to call for the resumption of six-party talks toward a peaceful resolution of the nuclear issue in the communist country.
Satellite image from February 2003 shows North Korea's Yongbyon nuclear complex. In recent years, North Korea has used progressively more specific language to describe the development of a "nuclear deterrent."
(Space Imaging Asia Via AP)
An overview of North Korea's current nuclear and missile capabilities and a chronology of events and diplomacy since 2001.
_____N. Korea's Statement_____
Full Text: The full statement by North Korea's foreign ministry on its nuclear program, as released in English by the North Korean news agency KCNA.
While U.S. government analysts have said for some time that North Korea has the ability to produce nuclear armaments, it is uncertain whether the Pyongyang government possesses such weapons or the ability to adapt them as warheads for its missile systems.
North Korea has used progressively more specific language, in public and in private, to describe the development of a "nuclear deterrent" since it expelled U.N. weapons inspectors in a feud with the United States in late 2002 and withdrew from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty the following January.
But on Thursday, a statement by the government of the reclusive North Korean leader, Kim Jong Il, contained the most explicit wording yet. "In response to the Bush administration's increasingly hostile policy toward North Korea, we . . . have manufactured nuclear weapons for self-defense," said the statement, issued through the official Korean Central News Agency.
North Korea is now the eighth country with currently declared nuclear weapons. The others are the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia, all signatories of the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty, and India and Pakistan, which have not signed the treaty. Israel is considered by analysts to have nuclear weapons, but has not acknowledged possessing them. South Africa built a bomb in the 1970s but later renounced its nuclear program.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, returning to the United States after a trip to Europe, called for a resumption of the six-party talks, which also include China, Japan, Russia and South Korea. "The North Koreans have been told by the president of the United States that the United States has no intention of attacking or invading North Korea," Rice said at a news conference in Luxembourg.
The White House played down the significance of the North Korean statement. "It's rhetoric we've heard before," press secretary Scott McClellan told reporters traveling with President Bush in North Carolina. "We remain committed to the six-party talks. We remain committed to a peaceful diplomatic resolution to the nuclear issue with regards to North Korea."
U.S. officials informed Asian allies last week that North Korea had reprocessed 8,000 spent fuel rods into weapons-grade plutonium and appeared to have exported nuclear material to Libya. U.S. officials have estimated that North Korea has produced enough nuclear material for six to eight devices.
Intelligence officials also have said that North Korea would have the capacity to produce up to six additional nuclear weapons yearly with a program in place to produce highly enriched uranium.
The North Korean statement harshly criticized the Bush administration, saying U.S. statements calling for diplomacy were the "far-fetched logic of gangsters."
"The true intention of the second-term Bush administration is not only to further its policy to isolate and stifle the DPRK . . . but to escalate it," the statement said, using the initials of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. It called U.S. statements "a bid to mislead the world public opinion."
Analysts said the North Korean statement represented an open rebuke of China, the North's closest ally, principal trading partner and primary source of food and fuel shipments.
China has publicly opposed the development of nuclear arms in North Korea, and President Hu Jintao is reported to have warned Kim in private letters not to build such weapons. China has also repeatedly urged the world to be patient with the North, taking the lead in promoting the six-nation talks and a diplomatic solution.