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North Korea Declares That It Has Nukes, Cancels Talks

By James Brooke

The New York Times -- TOKYO

In a surprising admission, North Korea’s hard-line Communist government declared publicly Thursday for the first time that it has nuclear weapons. It also said that it will boycott U.S.-sponsored regional talks designed to end its nuclear program, according to a North Korean Foreign Ministry statement transmitted Thursday by the reclusive nation’s wire service.

Pyongyang said it has “manufactured nukes for self-defense to cope with the Bush administration’s undisguised policy to isolate and stifle” North Korea, and that it will “bolster its nuclear weapons arsenal.”

The statement, considered a definitive policy pronouncement, said that North Korea, led by the reclusive dictator Kim Jong Il, is pulling out of the talks after concluding that the second Bush administration would pursue the “brazen-faced, double-dealing tactics” of dialogue and “regime change.”

Four hours before the official Korean Central News Agency transmitted the pullout statement, a top Bush administration official told reporters here that North Korea’s return to the nuclear talks was expected by all other participants --the United States, Japan, South Korea, Russia and China.

“The onus is really on North Korea,” said John R. Bolton, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, noting that the last time the parties met was in June.

Referring to North Korea’s bomb making capability, he added: “The absence of progress in six-party talks means they are making further progress toward their increased capability.”

It is unclear if North Korea is definitively slamming the door to talks or merely trying to raise its price for returning to the bargaining table.

“We are compelled to suspend our participation in the talks for an indefinite period,” the statement said, adding that North Korea would only return when “there are ample conditions and atmosphere to expect positive results from the talks.”

From Europe, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice told RTL television of Luxembourg: “The North Koreans should reassess this and try to end their own isolation.”

A similar appeal came from Japan, America’s closest ally in the region. “It’s better to resume them early,” Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi told reporters about North Korea’s decision to boycott the talks. “It would be in North Korea’s interest to make use of the six-party forum.”

Overall, the statement was a bucket of cold water for analysts who predicted a resumption of talks this spring. Two groups of American congressmen returned last month from visits to Pyongyang with reports that North Korean officials were hinting at an imminent return to the negotiating table.

President Bush, in his State of the Union message last week, avoided the confrontational rhetoric of past speeches in which he branded North Korea as member of “the axis of evil,” alongside Iraq and Iran. This time, in his only reference to Pyongyang, he merely said that he was “working with governments in Asia to convince North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions.”

But in Thursday’s statement, Pyongyang zeroed in on Rice’s testimony last month in her Senate confirmation hearings, where she lumped North Korea with five other dictatorships, calling them “outposts of tyranny.”