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Thursday, 17 October, 2002, 14:09 GMT 15:09 UK
Concern over North Korea admission
Kim Il Jong II
North Korea has taken the US and its allies by surprise
Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has said North Korea's admission that it possesses nuclear bomb making material is a "very serious development indeed".


This has come about as a result of talks which the Americans were having with the North Koreans

Tony Blair's spokesman
He said world opinion was "united" in calling on the country to abandon its nuclear weapons programme.

Mr Straw's words follow an admission by North Korea to US officials that it possesses enriched uranium - a key ingredient of nuclear weapons.

North Korea is regarded by Western intelligence as a potential source of such material for rogue states such as Iraq.

Violation

But previous accusations against the country have been met by flat denials and anger and it is not clear why North Korea chose to respond to the US allegations at this time.

Speaking earlier to reporters, Mr Straw said the admission was a "very serious development indeed".

He would be looking for "co-operation" by North Korea to "reduce and eliminate" its weapons of mass destruction, he said.

In a written Commons statement, Mr Straw said the admission meant a " serious violation" of North Korea's commitments on the spread of nuclear weapons and its atomic energy safeguards.

"We are in contact with our international partners about the implications, and it is an issue that I discussed with (US Secretary of State) Colin Powell on Tuesday."

'Quick response'

Mr Straw added: "World opinion is united in calling for North Korea to comply with its international obligations and to eliminate its nuclear weapons programme.

"We made clear to the North Korean foreign minister last week our longstanding concerns about nuclear and missile proliferation and the need for the North Koreans to respond quickly and convincingly to these concerns."

The foreign secretary briefed cabinet colleagues on the situation earlier on Thursday.

'Key ingredient'

Prime Minister Tony Blair's official spokesman said: "It is worth underlining, as Jack Straw did in the cabinet today (Thursday), that we do regard this as serious and as the Americans have said, they too regard this as serious.

"Obviously the possession of highly-enriched uranium is one of the key ingredients of developing nuclear weapons.

"This has come about as a result of talks which the Americans were having with the North Koreans."

Peaceful resolution

The spokesman said the admission indicated that the "framework agreement" brokered between North Korea and the United States had "broken down", which was "obviously a cause for concern".

"What the United States administration has said is that they will discuss the implications of this with their international partners and that includes ourselves.

"They have also said they want to resolve this peacefully," the spokesman added.

'Not like Iraq'

But he stressed the difference between North Korea's admission and the position of Iraq.

He said: "There is a difference in as much as there has been dialogue and there was the framework agreement.

"The fact this declaration happened is as a result of the dialogue that exists between the two countries.

"North Korea admitted to its possession of this highly-enriched uranium and that could have come about as a result of the pressure that's being put on Iraq."

'Not negotiable'

He went on: "In Iraq the situation there is very clear.

"Saddam Hussein is in breach of countless United Nation's resolutions, he's flouting the will of the international community.

"We know he has chemical and biological weapons and is seeking to acquire nuclear weapons.

"The disarming of Saddam Hussein is not negotiable."

Mr Blair told cabinet colleagues on Thursday morning he was still confident of securing a fresh United Nations resolution giving weapons inspectors a new mandate to go back into Iraq.

 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"
Labour committee member Bruce George
"This is pretty much an open secret"

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
17 Oct 02 | Asia-Pacific
19 Sep 02 | Asia-Pacific
07 Aug 02 | Asia-Pacific
07 Aug 02 | Asia-Pacific
07 Aug 02 | Asia-Pacific
09 May 02 | Americas
12 Dec 01 | In Depth
Internet links:


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