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N. Korea Announces Nukes, Beijing Talks End Day Early

By David E. Sanger

THE NEW YORK TIMES -- North Korean officials told American diplomats at a meeting in Beijing on Thursday that they already possess nuclear weapons and have begun making bomb-grade plutonium, officials of the Bush administration and several informed Asian nations said.

The Beijing talks ended a day early on Thursday, and Secretary of State Colin Powell said it was unclear “when and if” they might resume. On Thursday evening, President Bush told NBC News that North Korea was “back to the old blackmail game,” and insisted he would not be intimidated.

“This will give us an opportunity to say to the North Koreans and the world we’re not going to be threatened,” he said. But he gave no indication of what his next step might be.

It was also not clear whether the North Koreans, in their remarks during the closed negotiating sessions, were referring to two nuclear bombs that American intelligence agencies believe they have possessed for a decade, or whether they were overstating their nuclear capabilities in a deliberate effort to deter any attack Bush may be contemplating on their nuclear facilities.

Powell, answering questions after a speech here, said that while Bush still believed a peaceful solution to the Korean nuclear crisis was possible, all options are on the table. That appeared to be a reference to the possibility that the United States could take military action or might resort to what more hawkish members of the administration call Bush’s “Plan B,” enacting strict economic sanctions intended to topple the North Korean government.

The White House said Bush would make no decisions until he fully consulted with allies, including South Korea and Japan. The new South Korean president, Roh Moon-hyun, is expected to visit Washington in mid-May. Japan’s prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, is also expected to come here in May for consultations on the Korean crisis.

On Thursday night, however, administration officials were still trying to determine what parts of the North’s assertions were true, what parts were bluff, and what parts were calculated negotiating positions.

The CIA has long believed that the North probably reprocessed enough nuclear material prior to its 1994 “freeze” agreement with the United States to develop two nuclear weapons during the first Bush administration. But the evidence has always been murky, based partly on an assessment of the North’s technical capabilities and what one former senior intelligence official recently called “a good deal of supposition.”

“The only surprise here was that they admitted it,” one senior administration official said on Thursday. “That fact itself is hardly new.”