By PAUL SHIN, Associated Press Writer
SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea accused the United States and South Korea of planning a massive joint military attack against it, even as a Seoul envoy in Pyongyang pushed ahead with diplomatic efforts to resolve the Korean nuclear crisis.
The North also said it was prepared to answer the threat of an attack with “the unlimited use of means,” in a particularly forceful dispatch from its official news agency KCNA.
The envoy of outgoing South Korean President Kim Dae-jung met with the second-highest leader of the isolated communist nation. It was a likely prelude to meeting with leader Kim Jong Il, considered the only one who can make a meaningful decision on the North’s nuclear weapons program.
While Seoul hoped the North’s reception of its envoys signaled a new willingness for outside help in negotiating an end to the standoff – which Pyongyang has insisted is a matter between it and Washington – the North has continually tried to drive a wedge between South Korea and the United States, its closest ally.
In its latest hostile rhetoric, the North said the U.S. State Department was making “a final examination” of an attack plan that U.S. forces could carry out only a few hours after receiving the order.
It said U.S. forces in South Korea and the South Korean military have put together a contingency plan to invade the North and are preparing to put it into action. The plan includes attacks against the North’s nuclear facilities, the news agency said.
North Korea has frequently accused the United States of planning a pre-emptive attack, but Tuesday’s report was more forcefully worded and more extensive than most recent KCNA dispatches.
“The situation on the Korean Peninsula is deteriorating so rapidly that an armed clash may break out quite contrary to the desire of the DPRK for the peaceful settlement of the nuclear issue,” the report said.
DPRK stands for North Korea’s officials name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
U.S. officials have often said in recent weeks that Washington, which is currently considering a war in Iraq, has no intention of making military moves against North Korea. Washington insists it wants a peaceful end to the nuclear dispute.
KCNA also accused the United States of mounting a military buildup in South Korea and said Japan was preparing to evacuate 30,000 of its citizens from the peninsula. The United States bases 37,000 troops in South Korea.
Meanwhile, South Korean continued efforts for a peaceful resolution in meetings between Seoul envoy Lim Dong-won and Kim Yong Nam, president of the North’s parliament, the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly. In that post, Kim serves as the North’s ceremonial head of state, or No. 2.
The 25-minute meeting at the Masudae Assembly Hall in the North’s capital, Pyongyang, was seen as a necessary protocol for a meeting with reclusive President Kim Jong Il.
A statement by the South Korean government said the talks were about “pending inter-Korean issues,” without providing details.
Seoul authorities said chances looked strong for a meeting with President Kim before the envoys return home Jan. 29. “There is a high possibility that Chairman Kim Jong Il will meet Lim and then invite him to a dinner Tuesday,” a South Korean government official said on condition of anonymity.
Lim, along with an envoy of President Roh Moo-hyun, who takes office on Feb. 25, flew to North Korea on Monday to persuade Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons program.
Though both sides said they were pleased with meetings Monday, North Korea stood by its position that only unconditional talks with Washington could quell the nuclear tensions. In another news dispatch Tuesday, the North rejected as “cynical” Washington’s offer of energy and food assistance if Pyongyang abandons its nuclear ambitions.
“The U.S. much ballyhooed energy support and food aid are nothing but bait to force the DPRK to disarm itself,” the report said.
Washington is pushing to shift discussion of the nuclear issue to the U.N. Security Council, which could vote for sanctions against the North. Pyongyang has said it would consider sanctions a declaration of war.
The United States also is seeking international support, and the European Union provisionally decided Monday to send a mediating mission to Pyongyang.
The current dispute began in October when U.S. officials said North Korea had admitted having a nuclear program based on uranium enrichment in violation of a 1994 agreement with the United States. Washington suspended oil shipments to North Korea, which then ousted the U.N. inspectors and pulled out of a global nuclear arms control treaty.