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World News

N.Korea says not dropping nuclear plan on U.S. threat

SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea’s state media said on Saturday it would not give up its nuclear ambitions as long as a U.S. nuclear threat persists, staking out the communist state’s position days before Barack Obama takes office as president.

The comment by a North Korean foreign ministry spokesman follows his harshly worded statement on Tuesday demanding that Washington end its nuclear threat on the Korean peninsula.

“It will be wrong if the United States thinks that we are giving up nuclear programme in exchange for normalising diplomatic ties with them,” the spokesman was quoted as saying by the official Korea Central News Agency (KCNA).

“We have prospered for decades with no ties with the United States and what we want is bolstering our nuclear deterrent power to protect our country, not normalising the relationships... There’ll be no change in our status as a nuclear state as long as U.S. nuclear threat remains.”

North Korea has often pledged to get rid of its nuclear programme, but has dragged its heals in disarmament talks for the past 15 years despite being offered sweeteners to lift its economy out of desperate poverty.

The country may try some act of brinkmanship to increase its leverage after Obama takes office on Tuesday, President George W. Bush’s top Asia adviser said on Wednesday.

Obama and his designated secretary of state, Sen. Hillary Clinton have indicated they will continue and probably enhance the George W. Bush administration’s effort to persuade Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons in six-nation talks involving regional powers.

Last-ditch efforts by the Bush administration to win North Korea’s agreement on a system to verify its nuclear history and disarmament progress ended in stalemate at the end of 2008.

Clinton told the Senate panel that approved her nomination as top diplomat this week that she would be reviewing the diplomatic record with North Korea. But she called the six-party process a “vehicle for us to exert pressure on North Korea in a way that is more likely to alter their behaviour.”

The secretive North has sent mixed signals in the past few weeks about how it will conduct its nuclear dealings.

It appeared to have extended an olive branch to Obama by saying in a New Year’s message it was willing to work with countries that were friendly.

The isolated North was hit with U.N. sanctions after its October 2006 nuclear test.

North Korea’s already weak economy will be dragged down even further the longer the nuclear talks are stalled because Washington has called for a suspension of most aid to North Korea for not abiding by the disarmament deal, which experts said could lead it back to the bargaining table.

Reporting by Miyoung Kim; Editing by Bill Tarrant

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