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North Korea says it will strengthen its nuclear deterrence

SHARE North Korea says it will strengthen its nuclear deterrence

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea said today it will step up efforts to strengthen its "nuclear deterrent" in response to U.S. pressure, and discarded American calls for multilateral talks on the atomic dispute.

The comments by North Korea's Foreign Ministry — carried by the North's official news agency KCNA — came shortly after a state-run newspaper apparently acknowledged publicly for the first time that the communist nation has a nuclear weapons program.

In Phnom Penh, Cambodia's capital, Secretary of State Colin Powell urged Southeast Asian nations to close ranks behind Washington's effort to form a coalition of countries to curb North Korea's nuclear weapons ambitions.

North Korean has warned that any blockade or embargo against it could lead to an "all-out war" and has said it would not join multilateral talks proposed by the United States.

"The DPRK will put further spurs to increasing its nuclear deterrent force for self-defense as a just self-defense measure to cope with the U.S. strategy to isolate and stifle the DPRK, the danger of which is increasing with each passing day," an unidentified Foreign Ministry spokesman said in a statement carried by the communist state's official news agency KCNA.

DPRK is short for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the North's official name.

The ministry also said it would not join multilateral talks proposed by the United States. "Dialogue and pressure are not compatible," it said.

The Foreign Ministry's comments indicated that the isolated regime is intensifying the rhetoric in its standoff with Washington.

For days, North Korea has claimed that the United States and its allies were laying "international siege" to the isolated country, as a prelude for invasion. The United States says it has no plans to invade North Korea, but has not ruled out the military option.

The United States and its allies, including Japan and Australia, have recently put their navies on alert for North Korean vessels that may be carrying illicit drugs, weapons and counterfeit money — believed to be key sources of hard currency for Pyongyang.

The North Korean spokesman called the crackdown a "violation of the armistice" that ended the 1950-53 Korean War, "a declaration of war," and "tantamount to the very act of war."

Earlier today, Pyongyang's main state-run newspaper Rodong Sinmun said the United States' "pressure on the (North) to scrap its nuclear weapons program first is intended to contain it with ease after forcing it to disarm itself."

"The Iraqi war proved that disarmament leads to a war," Rodong said. "Therefore, it is quite clear that the DPRK can never accept the U.S. demand that it scrap its nuclear weapons program first," it said, using the initials of North Korea's official name.

Rodong's commentary, which was carried by KCNA, was the first time North Korea's state-run news media referred to its own "nuclear weapons program." During talks in Beijing in April, U.S. officials said the North Koreans privately told them that Pyongyang already had nuclear weapons and planned to build more.

North Korea has said it might consider U.S. demands for talks involving several nations, if it can also meet one-on-one with the United States. Washington says the North's nuclear ambitions are a regional threat and talks should include Russia, China, South Korea and Japan.

"This is not a bilateral matter between the United States and North Korea," Powell said, according to a State Department official who attended a closed-door ASEAN meeting in Phnom Penh where Powell spoke. "It affects every nation in the region that would fall under the arc of a North Korean missile."

"ASEAN's help in keeping pressure on North Korea is absolutely necessary if we are to achieve the goal that all of us seek: a diplomatic solution that leaves the peninsula, the region and the world safer," Powell said.

Britain expressed strong support.

"We do need internationally to work together to isolate North Korea and to demonstrate that we will not tolerate the way in which they both develop and proliferate weapons of mass destruction," said Britain's Defense Minister Geoffrey Hoon on a two-day visit to Australia.

The nuclear dispute flared in October when U.S. officials said North Korea admitted it had a clandestine nuclear program in violation of a 1994 agreement with Washington.

The United States and its allies suspended fuel shipments promised under the 1994 deal, and Pyongyang retaliated by expelling U.N. monitors, restarting frozen nuclear facilities and withdrawing from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.