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 Saturday, 11 January, 2003, 20:56 GMT
US dismisses N Korean assurances
Anti-North Korea protests in Seoul
The North's moves have fuelled anger in the South
The United States says North Korea failed to address "issues of concern" over its nuclear programme during talks in New Mexico with a former American diplomat.

[North Korea] continued to take steps in the wrong direction

Nancy Beck
State Department spokeswoman
North Korea's threat to resume missile testing would only increase tensions and Pyongyang's isolation, a State Department spokeswoman in Washington said on Saturday.

Earlier in the day, North Korea reaffirmed that it had no intention to build nuclear weapons - but it also warned it could end its moratorium on ballistic missile tests.

Alarm over Pyongyang's nuclear programme has been growing since it reopened last month a nuclear plant that can be used to produce weapons-grade plutonium.

North Korea says the plant will be used to generate electricity.

Tensions

The fresh assurances over Pyongyang's arms programme emerged from informal talks between Bill Richardson - a former US assistant secretary of state who is now the governor of New Mexico - and Han Song Ryol, North Korea's deputy ambassador to the UN.

CRISIS CHRONOLOGY
Satellite photo of the Yongbyon plant
16 Oct: N Korea acknowledges secret nuclear programme, US says
14 Nov: Oil shipments to N Korea halted
22 Dec: N Korea removes monitoring devices at Yongbyon nuclear plant
26 Dec: UN says 1,000 fuel rods have been moved to the plant
31 Dec: UN nuclear inspectors leave North Korea
6 Jan: IAEA demands inspectors be readmitted and secret weapons programme halted
7 Jan: US "willing to talk" to North Korea
10 Jan: N Korea pulls out of nuclear treaty
11 Jan: Pyongyang suggests it could resume ballistic missile tests

"Ambassador Han told me, and I think this is important, that North Korea has no intention of building nuclear weapons," Mr Richardson said on Saturday.

"Ambassador Han has expressed to me - this is encouraging - North Korea's willingness to have better relations with the United States," he added.

In its response, the US administration noted Pyongyang's willingness to have a dialogue - but said that was not enough.

"Unfortunately, the North Korean delegates did not address the issues of concern to the international community," State Department spokeswoman Nancy Beck said.

While the delegates were in New Mexico, she added, North Korea "continued to take steps in the wrong direction" by announcing its withdrawal from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and threatening to end a moratorium on missile testing, Ms Beck said.

'Self defence'

Earlier, North Korean reported that one million people had demonstrated in Pyongyang, in support of the government's decision to withdraw from the NPT.

North Korean ballistic missile launch
North Korea's missiles can reach any part of the South
Pyongyang on Friday described the move as a legitimate act of self-defence.

The international community has called on North Korea to reverse its withdrawal.

Ms Beck said the US remained prepared to talk to Pyongyang "about how it would meet its obligations to the international community".

The Bush administration has been reluctant to engage in negotiations that could be interpreted as rewarding North Korea's nuclear programme.

France and the US have said the matter should be referred to the United Nations Security Council.

The communist state has warned that any sanctions will be viewed as a declaration of war.

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's James Robbins
"No doubt the crisis is deeper"
  Bill Richardson, Former US Envoy
"I believe the North Koreans now understand the depth of international concern"
  Jim Hoare, former charge d'affaires in North Korea
"It is heavy handed and rather old fashioned diplomacy"

Nuclear tensions

Inside North Korea

Divided peninsula

TALKING POINT
See also:

10 Jan 03 | Asia-Pacific
10 Jan 03 | Asia-Pacific
10 Jan 03 | Asia-Pacific
10 Jan 03 | Asia-Pacific
10 Jan 03 | Asia-Pacific
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