Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

U.S. warns 'reckless' North Korea

Kerry condemns nuclear rhetoric

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WASHINGTON -- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday warned North Korea to halt a recent spate of rhetoric and actions, calling them provocative, dangerous and reckless. He also vowed the United States would defend itself and its allies South Korea and Japan from North Korean threats.

Kerry's comments came after North Korea ratcheted up an almost daily string of threats toward the three nations with an announcement it would revive a long-dormant nuclear reactor and ramp up production of atomic weapons material.

Speaking to reporters at a joint news conference with South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se, Kerry said the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, or DPRK, knows the U.S. is fully prepared and capable of defending itself and its allies.

"The bottom line, very simply, is that what Kim Jong Un has been choosing to do is provocative, it is dangerous, reckless, and the United States will not accept the DPRK as a nuclear state," Kerry said, referring to North Korea's young new leader.

A North Korean official said the country would quickly begin "readjusting and restarting" the facilities at its main Nyongbyon nuclear complex, including the plutonium reactor and a uranium enrichment plant. It had been shuttered as part of international nuclear disarmament talks in 2007 that have since stalled.

Kerry said such a step would be "a direct violation" of North Korea's international commitments and a "very serious step."

"It would be a provocative act and completely contrary to the road we have travelled for all these years," he said.

Still, both Kerry and his South Korean counterpart said the door remained open for North Korea to return to multinational nuclear disarmament talks.

Yun said those talks remain a "useful tool" for getting North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons, although he conceded it would be a very difficult task. "We should continue these efforts," he said.

"If North Korea decides to give up its nuclear ambitions and to become a member of the international community, we are prepared to resume talks" for peace on the Korean Peninsula, he said.

Yun said South Korean President Park Geun-hye is open to building a trusting relationship with North Korea but that Seoul would respond to provocations from Pyongyang. It was critical the U.S. and South Korea continue to enhance their defence capabilities, he said.

The White House said U.S. President Barack Obama's entire national security team was focused on North Korea, although some U.S. officials did cast doubt on whether North Korea would follow through on its threat to restart the reactor, portraying the latest threat as part of a pattern of antagonistic taunts that, so far, have not been backed up by action.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the development would be "extremely alarming," but added: "There's a long way to go between a stated intention and actually being able to pull it off."

Still, the Pentagon suggested the administration is concerned about the prospect for further escalation of tensions and it has made a conspicuous display of firepower in recent weeks, sending B-52 and B-2 bombers on practice runs over South Korea, as well as deploying F-22 stealth fighters and repositioning a missile-defence ship off the Korean coast.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 3, 2013 A11

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