South Korea denied harboring nuclear weapons ambitions Friday, saying a one-time uranium enrichment test by its scientists should not derail U.S.-led efforts to dismantle rival North Korea's nuclear programs.
The denial -- stated repeatedly during a government interview with foreign journalists -- came a day after South Korea admitted that its scientists conducted an unauthorized experiment in 2000 to enrich a small amount of uranium.
That admission to the International Atomic Energy Agency raised speculation that the South may have secretly dabbled with a weapons program. It also complicated an international standoff over communist North Korea's nuclear weapons development program.
The South's acknowledgment could provide North Korea with a pretext to further delay the six-nation negotiations aimed at dismantling its nuclear facilities, which U.S. officials say are used to enrich uranium or yield plutonium for weapons.
"South Korea has never had, and does not have, enrichment or nuclear reprocessing programs, let alone a weaponization program," said Oh Joon, an official in South Korea's Foreign Ministry.
Oh referred to the 2000 enrichment test -- conducted at a nuclear research center south of Seoul -- as an "isolated scientific experiment" and dismissed comparisons between it and suspected nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea.
"Since this was a one-time, isolated scientific experiment, not part of any enrichment or weaponization program, we think this should not, and will not, have any impact on the ongoing six-nation nuclear talks," Oh said.