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N. Korea rejects US demand to dismantle nuclear weapons

SEOUL -- North Korea rejected yesterday a US demand for a "complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantling" of its nuclear weapons programs, calling it a plot to start a war and overthrow the government.

The North's reiteration of its hard-line posture comes after Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing of China met reclusive North Korean leader Kim Jong Il last week.

Li later said the two agreed to "push forward" toward a third round of six-nation talks on North Korea's nuclear programs.

North Korea's state-run Radio Pyongyang, monitored by South Korea's Yonhap news agency, said yesterday that it would never accept the US demand that it first dismantle its nuclear facilities.

"Complete nuclear dismantling is a plot to overthrow the North's socialist system after stripping it of its nuclear deterrent at no cost at all. `Verifiable nuclear dismantling' reflects a US intention to spy on our military capabilities before starting a war," it said.

" `Irreversible nuclear dismantling' is nothing other than a noose to stifle us after eradicating our peaceful nuclear-energy industry," it added.

North Korea says it will allow nuclear inspections and dismantle its atomic facilities only if the United States provides economic aid and written guarantees that US forces will not invade.

The communist country also insists that it will keep a nuclear program to generate power.

Washington demands that North Korea first dismantle all its nuclear facilities, saying the Asian nation has previously broken international agreements not to develop nuclear weapons in return for oil and other economic aid.

Pyongyang's official Korean Central News Agency berated the joint US-South Korea military drills that began last Sunday, calling them preparations for "preemptive nuclear strikes."

"The present situation on the Korean peninsula remains dangerous, owing to the reckless moves of the US warhawks and their followers to unleash a war of aggression against the DPRK, so that a nuclear war may break there any time," it said, using the initials of the North's official name, Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

Both Washington and Seoul say their annual military exercises are aimed at testing defense readiness. But North Korea claimed that the United States was preparing to invade the isolated country, "applying the same method of `preemptive attack' to the DPRK as they used in the Iraqi war."

The second round of six-party talks about the North's nuclear ambitions ended last month in Beijing without a settlement. China has since sought to push ahead with another meeting among the two Koreas, the United States, China, Japan, and Russia.

The countries have agreed to keep the process going by creating lower-level working groups to resolve obstacles that might not be suitable for the high-level talks.

Li visited Pyongyang from Tuesday through Thursday and conferred with senior North Korean officials over the nuclear dispute.

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