The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Pyongyang reacts with defence dare

Seoul, Dec. 24 (Reuters): North Korea today accused hawks in the US 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 reclusive communist state’s defence minister, speaking after Washington predicted its armed forces could fight two wars at the same time and win, said his country had “modern offensive and defensive means capable of defeating” any enemy.

But Rumsfeld drew a distinction between Pyongyang and Iraq, saying years of diplomacy with Baghdad had failed.

“The situation in North Korea is a fairly recent one,” he said. “The diplomacy that’s underway there is in its early stages with the US and the interested neighbouring countries.”

Earlier, the Communist newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, accused Washington of internationalising the crisis and said persisting with this strategy would trigger an “uncontrollable catastrophe”.

But as Pyongyang ratcheted up the rhetoric, the US and its allies in the region urged it to abandon its nuclear brinkmanship and China 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 favours dialogue to end the crisis, expressed frustration with its unpredictable neighbour.

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

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 reactor capable of yielding weapons-grade plutonium.

“The US hawks are arrogant to groundlessly claim that the DPRK has pushed ahead with a ‘nuclear programme’, bringing its hostile policy toward it to a dangerous phase,” the defence minister was quoted as saying.

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