UNITED NATIONS (AP) — North Korea says it has turned the
plutonium from 8,000 spent nuclear fuel rods into nuclear weapons
to serve as a deterrent against increasing U.S. nuclear threats and
to prevent a nuclear war in northeast Asia.

Warning that the danger of war on the Korean peninsula “is
snowballing,” Vice Foreign Minister Choe Su Hon provided
details Monday of the nuclear deterrent that he said North Korea
has developed for self-defense.

In Washington, a State Department official said the
administration takes Choe’s claim seriously but added that it
is impossible to verify in the absence of independent inspectors at
North Korea’s nuclear sites.

The official, asking not to be identified, noted that the
administration has said previously that North Korea has enough
plutonium for the manufacture of several nuclear bombs.

Choe told the U.N. General Assembly’s annual ministerial
meeting that Pyongyang had “no other option but to possess a
nuclear deterrent” because of U.S. policies that he claimed
were designed to “eliminate” North Korea and make it
“a target of pre-emptive nuclear strikes.”

“Our deterrent is, in all its intents and purposes, the
self-defensive means to cope with the ever increasing U.S. nuclear
threats and further, prevent a nuclear war in northeast
Asia,” he told a news conference after his speech.

The United States has said it has no plans to attack the
communist country.

In his General Assembly speech and at the press conference with
a small group of reporters, Choe blamed the United States for
intensifying threats to attack the communist nation and destroying
the basis for negotiations to resolve the dispute over
Pyongyang’s nuclear program.

He said North Korea is still ready to dismantle its nuclear
program if Washington abandons its “hostile policy” and
is prepared to coexist peacefully.

At the moment, however, he said “the ever intensifying
U.S. hostile policy and the clandestine nuclear-related experiments
recently revealed in South Korea are constituting big stumbling
blocks” and make it impossible for North Korea to participate
in the continuation of six-nation talks on its nuclear program.

North Korea said earlier this year that it had reprocessed the
8,000 spent nuclear fuel rods and was increasing its “nuclear
deterrent” but did not provide any details.

Choe was asked at the news conference what was included in the
nuclear deterrent. “We have already made clear that we have
already reprocessed 8,000 wasted fuel rods and transformed them
into arms,” he said, without elaborating on the kinds or
numbers.

When asked if the fuel had been turned into actual weapons, not
just weapons-grade material, Choe said, “We declared that we
weaponized this.”

South Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Lee Soo-hyuck said in late
April that it was estimated that eight nuclear bombs could be made
if all 8,000 spent nuclear fuel rods were reprocessed. Before the
reprocessing, South Korea said it believed the North had enough
nuclear material to build one or two nuclear bombs.

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