North Korea has threatened to resume long-range missile testing and demanded that the United States apologize for calling the reclusive country “an outpost of tyranny,” official media reported.
The Korean-language version of a Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) report late Wednesday quoted a Foreign Ministry statement saying Pyongyang had the right to test-fire missiles, despite a moratorium that has been in place for six years.
The statement said North Korea did not feel bound by the 1999 moratorium on missile testing, reached when Pyongyang was in non-proliferation talks with the administration of then U.S. president Bill Clinton.
The North said its dialogue with Washington ended with the arrival of the Bush administration in 2001 and that meant it now had the right to resume missile testing.
“There is now no binding force for us on the moratorium on missile testing,” the Korean-language report said. “We are not legally bound by an international treaty, or anything else on the missile issue.”
Pyongyang slammed the Bush administration for first branding North Korea part of an “axis of evil” and more recently describing it as an outpost of tyranny.
“The U.S. should apologize for his above-said remarks and withdraw them, renounce its hostile policy aimed at a regime change in DPRK (North Korea) and clarify its political willingness to co-exist with DPRK in peace and show it in practice,” the report said.
An English-language version of the KCNA report omitted the missile-testing threat and held out the possibility of a return to six-party disarmament talks “if the U.S. takes a trustworthy and sincere attitude.”
That was similar to language it used last week when top leader Kim Jong-il hinted he might be willing to return to the negotiating table.
In the past Pyongyang has resorted to saber rattling before returning to dialogue. Analysts said such behavior was intended to bolster domestic political support and to keep international exposure high in a bid to strengthen its negotiating position.
North Korea stunned its neighbors in 1998 by launching a ballistic missile which flew over Japan before splashing down in the Pacific Ocean. The Taepodong 1 missile is believed to have a range of up to 1,550 miles.
The North has also tested and deployed the Rodong 1 missile with a range of about 1,000 km. It is thought to be developing missiles capable of reaching the western United States.
Japan’s top government spokesman brushed aside the latest North Korean declaration.
“We think it is edging closer to being persuaded by other countries,” Hiroyuki Hosoda told reporters, referring to the stalled six-party talks aimed at persuading Pyongyang to renounce its nuclear weapons ambitions.
“I expect a decision to resume the talks will be made shortly,” he said, but added that he based that view on lessons learned from past dealings with North Korea.
Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, asked about his expectations for a resumption of talks, told reporters: “There are various efforts toward that goal. And I think North Korea would agree to that.”
On Feb. 10., North Korea officially announced for the first time that it had nuclear arms and said it was pulling out of the six-way talks.
KCNA indignantly cited Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s designation of North Korea as one of the “outposts of tyranny” during her Senate confirmation hearing in January.
The North said that statement was evidence that Washington had not abandoned its “hostile” policy toward North Korea, first made manifest when President Bush famously grouped North Korea, Iran and prewar Iraq in an “axis of evil.”
Pyongyang’s official media on Feb. 22 quoted leader Kim Jong-il as telling a high-powered envoy from the North’s main benefactor, China, that his nation could return to the talks if the conditions were right and Washington showed sincerity.
The top U.S. negotiator to the nuclear talks has reiterated comments made by Bush administration officials that the United States had no plans to attack the country.
“We have absolutely no intention of invading North Korea,” U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Christopher Hill said in Seoul.
Hill was speaking after meeting top Chinese negotiator Wu Dawei Thursday in the South Korean capital, yet another move in intense consultations aimed at restarting the stalled talks.
Wu, who met South Korean officials Wednesday, held closed discussions with Hill. Hill said he and Wu had agreed that it was in Pyongyang’s best interest to return to the table.
South and North Korea, the United States, Japan, China and Russia have held three inconclusive rounds of talks since 2003. A fourth round planned for late last year never took place.