North Korea accuses US of risking nuclear war


North Korea has accused hawks in the United States of pushing the Korean peninsula to the brink of nuclear war and said its armed forces were up to the task of defeating any enemy.

"The US hawks are arrogant enough to groundlessly claim that the DPRK (North Korea) has pushed ahead with a 'nuclear program', bringing its hostile an extremely dangerous phase," its official KCNA news agency quoted Defence Minister Kim Il-chol as saying.

US hawks...are pushing the situation on the Korean peninsula to the brink of a nuclear war
North Korean Defence Minister Kim Il-chol

Earlier, the ruling party newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, accused Washington of internationalizing the crisis and said persisting with this strategy would trigger an "uncontrollable catastrophe."

In repsonse, the United States and its allies urged North Korea to abandon its nuclear brinkmanship and China, the North's main ally, called for restraint and dialogue to defuse the crisis.

South Korea, which would be in the front line of any conflict on the peninsula and favors dialogue to end the crisis, expressed frustration with its neighbor.

"South Korea, the United States, Japan, China, Russia and the European Union are all strongly calling on North Korea to abandon the nuclear program. But the North is not listening now," outgoing South Korean President Kim Dae-jung told his cabinet.

He said the North's attitude was frustrating efforts to secure help for its shattered economy and end its international isolation.

North Korea, denounced by President George W. Bush as part of an "axis of evil" with Iraq and Iran, set alarm bells ringing at the weekend by removing UN monitoring equipment at a nuclear reactor that is capable of yielding weapons-grade plutonium.

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, speaking yesterday, warned the North against taking advantage of the Iraq crisis to further its nuclear ambitions.

"We are capable of winning decisively in one (war) and swiftly defeating in the case of the other," he told a Pentagon briefing. "Let there be no doubt about it."

North Korea says it has a right to possess nuclear weapons if it chooses and insists that Washington sign a non-aggression pact as a basis for talks on their differences. Washington says Pyongyang must respect its international commitments, particularly a 1994 agreement to abandon its nuclear ambitions in return for fuel oil and help with energy production.