UNITED NATIONS (CNN) # North Korea has admitted reprocessing 8,000 fuel rods from its Yongbyon nuclear reactor to boost its nuclear capabilities in response to threats from the United States.
In a rare interview, Vice Foreign Minister Choe Su Hon told CNN of the move, saying North Korea’s nuclear deterrence was not intended to attack other countries, but as a means to safeguard the country’s territory.
“We have already processed that fuel rods and also changed the purpose of those fuel rods,” Choe said, when asked about the 8,000 fuel rods.
When asked what that purpose was, Choe replied: “As we have clearly pointed out – since the United States is now threatening the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) … we have been left with no alternative.”
Choe claimed Wednesday the war with Iraq convinced the North Korean government to further strengthen its military defense # implying it may have nuclear arms in its arsenal.
“As we have clearly pointed out, since the United States is now threatening the DPRK with nuclear weapons to launch a preemptive nuclear attack against the DPRK, we have been left with no alternative but to be in possession of the nuclear deterrence,” the minister said.
“That’s why we have taken up all measures to maintain and strengthen that nuclear deterrence.”
U.S. officials have estimated that plutonium obtained from the 8,000 rods could be used to build between 6 and 12 nuclear warheads.
Choe also told CNN that Pyongyang’s relations with the United States are at their worst level ever, repeatedly attacking Washington for not signing a non-aggression treaty with North Korea.
The minister said the treaty would enable Pyongyang to cooperate with the international community on nuclear issues.
“Our proposal is modest and simple, we just want both the DPRK and the United States to put down guns at the same time and coexist peacefully.”
No word on talks
The minister refused to say if and when North Korea will test a nuclear weapon as the government has previously indicated it would.
The traveling minister said relations were very good with influential neighbor China. Beijing is concerned about a nuclear North Korea and the flood of refugees should conflict erupt.
Choe also attacked the United States for U.S. President George W. Bush’s statement that North Korea was part of the “axis of evil.”
There was no indication when North Korea would agree to another round of multi-nations talks on its nuclear program. The last round was in Beijing in August.
“We have never made any promises with regards to the next round of six party talks,” the vice foreign minister said.