Seoul/Washington, Jan. 12 (Reuters): With the world gripped by fear of a nuclear-armed North Korea, a US envoy arrived in Seoul today to try to defuse the crisis, as Pyongyang accu-sed Washington of fabricating its admission to an atomic programme.
Communist North Korea hurled fresh invective at the US, saying it could disappear in “a sea of fire” if it attacked and again denied that Pyongyang had ever told the US about having a nuclear arms programme.
In the latest diplomatic flurry after North Korea pulled out of a global treaty preventing the spread of nuclear arms, US deputy secretary of state James Kelly arrived in Seoul for his first visit to the region since October, when he said Pyongyang had admitted developing a nuclear arms programme.
Kelly is due to meet officials at the presidential Blue House tomorrow and to hold talks with President-elect Roh Moo-hyun.
“We are going to talk positively,” he said on his arrival.
Diplomatic activity flurried across the region.
Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, fresh from talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, met in eastern Russia with Konstantin Pulikovsky, a Russian point man on North Korea who is believed to have close ties to its reclusive leader, Kim Jong-il.
“It is important that North Korea be steadfastly worked upon to gain a peaceful solution,” Koizumi told Pulikovsky, Putin’s prefect for the far east.
North Korea, suspected by the US of making nuclear bombs and of possibly having two in its arsenal, yesterday became the first country to pull out of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, triggering worldwide condemnation. Within hours, it said it was free to resume missile-firing tests, ratcheting up tension with the US in its bid to force Washington into negotiations.
Analysts say Pyongyang and its secretive leader have been anxious for the survival of their administration ever since US President George W. Bush last year bracketed North Korea with Iraq and Iran in an “axis of evil”.
South Korean officials, their capital within striking range of the North’s artillery line-up, said North Korea was trying to hasten resolution of the nuclear standoff by pushing for talks before a possible US attack on Iraq.
Japan’s deputy chief Cabinet secretary, Shinzo Abe, told Fuji Television from Khabarovsk, Russia, that Pyongyang was “playing a dangerous game”, but the issue could be resolved through talks. “If the world applies pressure and convinces North Korea that it will not gain anything with this game... I think it is possible for the situation to return to the way it was,” he said.
However, Russia’s Pulikovsky said his knowledge of Kim suggested a soft approach was likely to be more effective. “He will not permit being pressured from outside,” Pulikovsky was quoted as saying. “He will only be repelled by this.”
Pyongyang urged all Koreans to unite to rid the peninsula of the US presence, part of a drive to build on differences between South Korea and the US. “The US intentionally fabricated our admission to a nuclear development programme,” South Korea’s Yonhap news agency quoted the North’s Korean Central News Agency as saying.