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Thursday, 17 October, 2002, 13:09 GMT 14:09 UK
Shock at N Korean nuclear 'admission'
North Korea soldiers
Recently the reclusive state has been reaching out
South Korea and Japan have moved to limit the fall-out from a shock US announcement that North Korea had admitted to having a secret nuclear weapons programme.

US Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly
James Kelly reportedly produced evidence of the plans
South Korea and Japan said the surprise statement would not alter their plans to try and improve ties with the secretive North.

Both governments have been pushing the US to engage with Pyongyang. But US officials said policy towards the North was now under review.

The US State Department said on Thursday that North Korea confessed to the programme after Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly presented American documentary "evidence" on the issue during a visit to Pyongyang earlier this month.

Previous accusations against the North have been met by flat denials and angry propaganda, and it is not clear why North Korea chose to respond to the US allegations.

But South Korean officials, while describing the admission as "very serious", said Seoul would continue to pursue its "sunshine" policy of engagement with the North.

A positive sign?

A presidential aide said Seoul viewed North Korea's apparent confession as an indication that it was keen to pursue dialogue.

Japan also reacted calmly, and pledged it would still go ahead with talks to normalise relations with North Korea later this month.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said that Tokyo had received "information related to the issue" but not "detailed information" before Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi held his landmark summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il last month.

Tokyo said it would raise the issue during the normalisation talks.

"We will ask North Korea to erase nuclear suspicions honestly," Mr Koizumi told reporters.

Seoul also said there were no plans to postpone a visit by a cabinet-level delegation to Pyongyang on Saturday and would raise the nuclear issue during talks.

Yim Sung-joon, top presidential adviser on national security and foreign policy, said South Korea saw "this frank confirmation of nuclear suspicions... as a sign North Korea is willing to resolve this problem through dialogue".

US rethinks

US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher was more cautious.

He said Washington had been prepared to offer North Korea economic and political incentives to dramatically alter its behaviour, but that in the light of the confession, "we are unable to pursue with approach".


North Korea's secret nuclear weapons programme is a serious violation of North Korea's commitments

But he stressed, "We seek a peaceful resolution of this situation. Everyone in the region has a stake in this issue and no peaceful nation wants to see a nuclear-armed North Korea."

Reclusive North Korea is one of three states dubbed an "axis of evil" by US President George W Bush, along with Iran and Iraq.

However, in recent months there has been a thaw in Pyongyang's dealings with the outside world.

This was one of the reasons for Mr Kelly's visit to Pyongyang on 3 October.

Admission

At first the North Koreans tried to deny the evidence of a nuclear programme, but eventually "they acknowledged they had a secret nuclear weapons programme involving enriched uranium," one US official said.

Mr Boucher said this meant Pyongyang was in "serious violation of North Korea's commitments under the Agreed Framework" - the 1994 deal under which North Korea agreed to halt its nuclear weapons programme in return for two light water reactors.

US officials said North Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Kang Sok-joo, who was "assertive, aggressive" in the revelation, also alluded to "more powerful" weapons.

North Korea is also suspected of harbouring or pursuing chemical and biological weapons programmes.

Kelly on tour

US officials said the Bush administration is now consulting with its allies and Congress before deciding what to do in light of the revelation.

Mr Kelly is currently in Beijing, where he will discuss, among other issues, North Korea's admission.

China, which allies itself with North Korea, has avoided directly criticising Pyongyang over the revelation.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman said simply: "The nuclear issue of North Korea should be settled through dialogue and negotiation, and should be settled peacefully."

Mr Kelly is also planning to go to Seoul and Tokyo from Beijing for consultations on the issue, the US State Department said.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Ian Pannell
"This is an explosive revelation"
The BBC's Charles Scanlon in Tokyo
"It has come as a real shock to the region"
Nicholas Eberstadt, former US adviser on N Korea
On the difference between North Korea and Iraq

Nuclear tensions

Inside North Korea

Divided peninsula

TALKING POINT
See also:

17 Oct 02 | Asia-Pacific
17 Oct 02 | Asia-Pacific
17 Oct 02 | Asia-Pacific
19 Sep 02 | Asia-Pacific
07 Aug 02 | Asia-Pacific
07 Aug 02 | Asia-Pacific
09 May 02 | Americas
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