By Jack Kim
SEOUL, April 21 (Reuters) - North Korea demanded recognition on Wednesday as an official nuclear weapons state, and said it would build nuclear weapons as it deemed necessary.
The comments, carried in a North Korea Foreign Ministry memorandum, also repeated calls for a permanent peace treaty with the United States to replace a decades-old armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War.
Washington has rejected a peace treaty as long as Pyongyang refuses to end its nuclear programme.
The statement said the North wanted to be on "an equal footing with other nuclear weapons states" despite quitting in 2003 the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) which sets the parameters for being a nuclear weapons state.
Regional powers have refused to acknowledge the North’s claim to be recognised as a nuclear weapons state.
"(North Korea) will manufacture nukes as much as it deems necessary but will neither participate in nuclear arms race nor produce them more than it feels necessary," said the Foreign Ministry memo, carried by the official KCNA news agency.
U.S. officials said that the North has about 50 kg (110 lb) of plutonium, which proliferation experts said would be enough for six to eight nuclear weapons. Experts say they do not believe the North has the ability to miniaturise an atomic weapon to place on a missile.
The North Korean Foreign Ministry comments come at a time of heightened tensions on the Korean peninsula after a deadly sinking of a South Korean navy ship that many in the South think was caused by a torpedo attack by the North. Pyongyang denies the claim.
A news report also said this week that North Korea may be preparing for a third nuclear test in May or June, an act that could further isolate Pyongyang and complicate already troubled nuclear diplomacy. [ID:nTOE63J03V]
North Korea has boycotted nuclear disarmament talks with five regional powers including the United States for more than a year, putting conditions on its return that include an end to U.N. sanctions imposed after its nuclear test in May last year.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s leadership has been tested by a failed currency move late last year that exacerbated food shortages among a hungry public and sparked rare civil unrest.
The North’s Foreign Ministry memorandum said it had tried to defuse a nuclear crisis on the Korean peninsula that had been initiated by the United States.
"All these efforts, however, proved futile. The last and only option was to react to ‘nukes with nukes’. The extreme nuclear threat of the U.S. persistently compelled the DPRK to have access to nukes."
(Editing by Jeremy Laurence)