| Kim Jong-Il with Korean People’s Army personnel in Pyongyang. (AFP)
Seoul, Jan. 7 (Reuters): North Korea said today economic sanctions over its nuclear programme would mean war and urged the US to sit down and talk, just hours after Washington signalled that dialogue was still an option.
President George W. Bush, who has branded the Communist state part of an “axis of evil” along with Iraq and Iran, said yesterday he remained open to dialogue but White House officials said the North must first end efforts to develop atomic weapons.
Pyongyang’s KCNA news agency denounced the US’ brief seizure last month of a shipload of North Korean scud missiles bound for Yemen, calling it “part of the US-tailored containment strategy against the DPRK (North Korea).
“The strategy means total economic sanctions aimed at isolating and stifling the DPRK,” the agency said today.
“Sanctions mean a war and the war knows no mercy. The US should opt for dialogue with the DPRK, not for war, clearly aware that it will have to pay a very high price for such reckless acts,” KCNA added.
A South Korean Unification Ministry official said that North Korea customarily emits shrill rhetoric, but that its words were being watched carefully because of its nuclear brinkmanship.
“People do not think that there is going to be a war,” said the official. “But this time, North Korea’s nuclear threat can be taken seriously because the North has broken its promises to the US and the international community.”
A South Korean presidential envoy headed to Washington in a fresh bid to defuse the crisis that flared up last month, when Pyongyang expelled UN nuclear inspectors and vowed to restart a reactor idled under a 1994 pact which froze its nuclear programme in exchange for oil from the West.
National security adviser Yim Sung-joon, was expected to suggest that the US give North Korea security assurances and promises to resume energy supplies in return for the North agreeing again to abandon its nuclear programme.
The UN nuclear watchdog, meanwhile, gave Pyongyang a last chance to readmit inspectors expelled last week.
Meeting in Vienna, the governing board of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) passed a resolution warning North Korea to cooperate with its inspectors or be reported to the UN Security Council for breaching nuclear safeguards. North Korea has yet to respond to the IAEA ultimatum. South Korea joined the US and Japan in urging Pyongyang to heed the IAEA’s latest decision.
“The government hopes North Korea will not miss the cherished opportunity for a diplomatic and peaceful solution to its nuclear problems,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.
“North Korea should respect the IAEA’s resolution and take the responsibility and do its duty as a member of the Non-Proliferation Treaty by implementing it right away.”
Japan's Kyodo news agency reported today that a document distributed to the 35 member countries of the IAEA said there was a strong possibility that North Korea had acquired a small amount of plutonium since it removed seals from the reactor last month.
The UN nuclear watchdog said in the document that the amount of nuclear material was too small to produce a nuclear bomb but was enough to produce a so-called “dirty bomb” which could scatter radioactive material when detonated, Kyodo said.
Washington insists that the North end its quest for nuclear arms. Pyongyang demands that the US, which keeps 37,000 troops in the South, sign a non-aggression pact.
Bush said yesterday the US would talk with North Korea but a White House official said dialogue could start only after the North dismantles its weapon programmes. “We’ll have dialogue. We’ve had dialogue with North Korea,” Bush said after a cabinet meeting. He did not elaborate on the kind of dialogue he envisaged but said the US had no intention of invading North Korea. Washington has previously ruled out immediate negotiations with North Korea while saying that low-level contacts continued through the North Korean UN mission in New York.