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IN THE NEWS - January 11, 2003: North Korean Nuclear Crisis - 2003-01-10

This is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program, IN THE NEWS.

North Korea has officially withdrawn from an international treaty to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. North Korea blamed its decision on the United States. It says the administration of President Bush plans to crush North Korea in a nuclear attack.

The decision increases tensions in the crisis over North Korea’s nuclear activities. Last month, North Korea announced that it would re-start its nuclear center at Yongbyon. American officials fear the Yongbyon center could be used to develop nuclear weapons.

North Korea said Friday that it has no immediate plans to make such weapons. It said the country’s nuclear activities would be limited to peaceful purposes, such as producing electric power.

North Korea also rejected a call made by the International Atomic Energy Agency. The United Nations agency wanted North Korea to re-admit inspectors. North Korea expelled the inspectors last week. It accused the United States of using the agency as a tool for carrying out hostile policy toward North Korea.

Several nations have condemned North Korea’s decision. South Korean President Kim Dae-jung said North Korea’s action has worsened the crisis. He called an emergency meeting of his national security team.

The foreign minister of France said the U-N Security Council must now consider North Korea’s decision to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. China and Russia also expressed deep concern.

An American arms control official said North Korea’s decision to withdraw from the treaty came as no surprise. Under Secretary of State John Bolton said North Korea was already violating the agreement.

Mister Bolton said the United States has clearly expressed that it has no hostile aims toward North Korea. He said American officials want to settle the nuclear issue through diplomatic and peaceful methods. He also said the United States wants North Korea to honor existing treaties.

Tensions about North Korea’s nuclear program started to increase in October. That is when American diplomat James Kelly said that North Korean officials admitted operating a secret nuclear weapons program. That would violate a nineteen-ninety-four agreement with the United States.

North Korea has demanded direct talks with the United States about the nuclear issue. However, the two countries do not have diplomatic relations. Late this week, North Korea sent two officials to meet with America’s former ambassador to the United Nations, Bill Richardson. In the past, he led a number of diplomatic efforts for former President Bill Clinton. Mister Richardson now is governor of the American state of New Mexico. Governor Richardson says he is not an official negotiator, but has expressed a willingness to help.

This VOA Special English program, IN THE NEWS, was written by Cynthia Kirk and George Grow. This is Steve Ember.