Pacific Rim Bureau (CNSNews.com) – North Korean lawmakers have approved plans to increase the regime’s nuclear warfare capability and agreed to take unspecified “relevant measures,” according to Pyongyang’s official mouthpiece.
The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said the decision by the Supreme People’s Assembly to retain and strengthen its “nuclear deterrent force” was a response to the “hostile” policy of the United States.
The assembly, a 687-member legislature whose main function analysts say is to endorse decisions already taken by the country’s leaders, also voiced its support for a third five-year term for Kim Jong-il.
Kim’s official post is chairman of the National Defense Commission, which makes him commander-in-chief of the nation’s 1.1 million-strong military. He was first elected to the position in 1993, a year before the death of his father, Kim Il-sung.
Wednesday’s “nuclear deterrent” announcement, the North’s latest move in the 11-month crisis over its ambitions to be a nuclear power, came five days after six-party talks in Beijing ended without any progress.
Secretary of State Colin Powell Wednesday gave the first on-the-record confirmation that North Korean diplomats had during the talks threatened to test a nuclear weapon and declare its nuclear status.
“That’s what they said,” Powell replied when asked about the claim, attributed last week to unnamed U.S. officials.
“I don’t know if it was a promise or just a statement,” added Powell, who was speaking after meeting in Washington with South Korean Foreign Minister Yoon Young-Kwan.
Following the talks, the Chinese government said the six participants – the U.S., North and South Koreas, Japan, Russia and China – had agreed to meet again, but at the weekend, Pyongyang’s foreign ministry suggested that further meetings would be pointless.
KCNA said Wednesday the North’s parliament had expressed its support for “all statements by the foreign ministry made during and after the multilateral talks.”
It said the nuclear issue “has reached a grave phase due to the Bush administration’s extremely hostile policy” towards the North.
The Beijing talks had reaffirmed that Washington still intended to disarm North Korea and was using the forum in a bid to “isolate and stifle” North Korea, the lawmakers said.
The standoff began last October, when U.S. officials said Pyongyang admitted the existence of a nuclear program in violation of international agreements.
Pyongyang wants a “non-aggression treaty” from the U.S. first, while the U.S. insists that the North scrap its nuclear programs immediately and verifiably, and says it won’t give in to nuclear blackmail.
Powell on Wednesday described the North Korean threats as “truculent statements” aimed at unnerving the international community.
Pyongyang’s latest announcement came on the same day the head of the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog expressed the hope that the 21super st
osupersub century would see no nuclear detonations anywhere on earth.
“It would indeed be a significant achievement if this new century were to remain free of any nuclear test explosions,” International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Mohamed ElBaradei said in a statement delivered at a meeting in Vienna aimed at speeding up ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which aims to ban all nuclear tests.
The most recent nuclear tests were conducted in 1998 by India and Pakistan, drawing widespread international condemnation but confirming their status as nuclear-capable powers.
The CIA estimates that North Korea already has “one or two” atomic bombs, and experts say that with its nuclear facilities up and running again, it could build several more within months.
Speculation has arisen that Pyongyang may be planning either a test or an official declaration of nuclear status next Tuesday, Sept. 9, the 55th anniversary of the founding of the communist state.