SKorea: NKorea seeks recognition as nuclear state

SKorea: NKorea seeks recognition as nuclear state

North Korea is insisting on direct talks with the United States in an attempt to obtain recognition as a nuclear state, Seoul's top diplomat said Friday, warning that the North's atomic bombs are intended to target South Korea, Associated Press reported.

The remark - implying that the communist nation has no intention of giving up atomic weapons - is the latest in a series of warnings that a wary South Korea has issued ahead of possible one-on-one negotiations between the U.S. and North Korea.

After escalating tensions for months with nuclear and missile tests, Pyongyang recently offered to hold direct talks with the U.S. - a longstanding demand from the reclusive North which maintains it had to develop atomic bombs to cope with what it calls "U.S. nuclear threats" - which Washington denies making.

The U.S. is studying the offer, saying such talks could be worthwhile to get the North back into six-nation disarmament negotiations - that also involve China, Russia, South Korea and Japan. Pyongyang pulled out of the talks in April to protest international criticism of a rocket launch that other nations suspected was a test of long-range missile technology.

State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said Thursday that the U.S. will "make some judgments in the very near future" on the bilateral talks offer after consultations with other countries.

South Korea says it does not oppose direct U.S.-North Korea dialogue if it is aimed at resuming the six-party talks.

But officials, including President Lee Myung-bak, have cautioned against any hasty optimism, saying that the North has shown no willingness to disarm. They say recent conciliatory gestures from Pyongyang - including resumption of inter-Korean projects and the release of U.S. and South Korean detainees - are just because it feels the pain of U.N. sanctions on its weapons exports and financial dealings that were imposed after a nuclear test it conducted in May.

"The reason North Korea is repeatedly insisting on direct talks is because it wants to be recognized as a nuclear state in order to proceed with arms reduction talks with the U.S.," Seoul's Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan said in speech Friday at the Korea Chamber of Commerce, according to his office.

Yu also said the North's atomic bombs are aimed at South Korea, saying the communist neighbor's goal has long been to unify the divided nations by force.

The U.S. has long said it will never recognize Pyongyang as a nuclear power.

On Thursday, Yu told a parliamentary committee that U.N. sanctions on Pyongyang should continue to be enforced unless the North takes "visible" steps to disarm.

Meanwhile, a presidential envoy from China - the North's principal ally - has been in Pyongyang for talks with North Korean officials.

Dai Bingguo, special envoy of Chinese President Hu Jintao, met with First Vice Foreign Minister Kang Sok Ju, considered Pyongyang's top foreign policy brain and the main nuclear strategist, on Wednesday and met with the North's No. 2 leader Kim Yong Nam on Thursday.

Details of their discussions were not available. It is widely believed the nuclear row was a key topic.

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