September 18, 2007 / 7:55 AM / in 12 years

N.Korea calls Syria nuclear ties report "conspiracy"

SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea said on Tuesday recent media reports that it may be providing help to Syria’s nuclear activities were groundless conspiracy fabricated by those who oppose the North’s improving ties with Washington.

A North Korean flag seen in the propaganda village of Gijungdong near the truce village of Panmunjom in the demilitarized zone which separates the two Koreas, about 55 km north of Seoul in this November 23, 2006 file photo. REUTERS/Lee Jae-Won

The Washington Post reported last week that intelligence had led some U.S. officials to believe Syria was receiving help from North Korea on some sort of nuclear facility. The New York Times ran a similar report.

“This is sheer misinformation,” the North’s official KCNA news agency quoted an unnamed Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying, referring to the reports.

The North made a pledge in October 2006 not to engage in nuclear proliferation and it still stood, the spokesman said.

North Korea last week hosted a team of nuclear officials and experts who made a rare road trip to Pyongyang and to the country’s main nuclear complex at Yongbyon north of the capital in what was seen as a gesture to improve ties with the United States.

North Korea has suspended operation of the Yongbyon complex under a February deal in return for 50,000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil from South Korea. It is set to receive additional 950,000 tonnes by taking further disarmament steps this year.

“The DPRK never makes an empty talk but always tells truth,” the Foreign Ministry spokesman said, using the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

“The above-said story is nothing but a clumsy plot hatched by the dishonest forces who do not like to see any progress at the six-party talks and in the DPRK-U.S. relations.”

U.S. President George W. Bush, who once lumped North Korea with Iran and pre-war Iraq as members of an “axis of evil,” has offered a peace treaty with the North if Pyongyang completes nuclear disarmament.

South Korea said on Monday a new round of the six-way talks would not be held on Sept. 19 as widely expected.

South Korean officials have declined to confirm speculation that Pyongyang was upset by reports about its ties to Syrian nuclear activities or failure by China to ship heavy fuel oil under the February pact.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said on Tuesday its shipments of fuel oil were under way, with the first having arrived in the North Korean port of Nampo on Sunday.

“China’s oil aid plan is currently being put in place, and we hope it will be completed soon,” Jiang Yu told a briefing.

Israel has refused to comment on what U.S. officials and diplomatic sources have described in news reports as an air raid inside Syria this month that may have targeted weapons headed for Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon or a suspected nuclear site.

Syria said it could retaliate for the Sept. 6 violation of its territory and has denied reports that Damascus may have received North Korean nuclear aid.

Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing

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