World News

North Korea refuses unilateral nuclear disarmament

SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea said on Monday it would never unilaterally dismantle its nuclear weapons and demanded inspectors probe the South to make sure it is not harbouring U.S. atomic arms, further stepping up tensions with its neighbour.

North Korea has said in the past week it was cutting all agreements it had reached with the South and that the peninsula was on the brink of war. Analysts say Pyongyang is trying to grab the attention of new U.S. President Barack Obama.

A North Korean army spokesman said in comments carried by the state’s official KRT TV that the North and the South remained in a state of war and it was “a shameless act of imprudence” to believe that one side would willingly disarm.

“There will never be nuclear dismantlement in the North until there is nuclear dismantlement in the South to clear away U.S. nuclear threat,” the spokesman said, repeating similar calls the North has made for inspections in the South.

South Korea and the United States, which has about 28,000 troops in the country, have said there are no nuclear arms in the South. The two Koreas are technically still at war because their 1950-53 conflict ended with a cease fire, not a peace treaty.

North Korea in recent weeks called on the United States to drop what it saw as a hostile policy and threatened to destroy South Korea’s conservative government, which has ended a decade of unconditional aid to Pyongyang and said handouts would be tied to moves the North makes towards disarmament.

North Korea has dragged down floundering international talks on ending its nuclear arms programme by refusing to accept a system to check claims it made about its atomic inventory.

In a move likely to aggravate Pyongyang further, South Korean activists said they planned to send anti-Kim Jong-il leaflets to the North later this month marking Kim’s 67th birthday on February 16th and will enclose North Korean money to make sure they get the attention of the people finding them.

The South Korean government, which has tried to stop the activist groups from launching the leaflets that angered the North, said although the 5,000 won North Korean bills have been brought into the country illegally, there was no legal grounds to stop the leaflet drop.

The money is about equal to the monthly salary of the average North Korean. The communist state’s currency is not openly traded on international markets.

“If they try to punish me for the North Korean money, I will accept it,” activist Choi Sung-yong told a news conference. Choi is a member of a group fighting for the release of South Korean fishermen believed to have been abducted by the North.

Analysts said the North’s threats increased the chances of a military clash on the heavily guarded land and sea border that has divided the two Koreas for more than a half a century.

Editing by Jon Herskovitz and Paul Tait