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N Korea warns US in belligerent New Year message

Financial Times | January 2 2005

Pyongyang warned at the weekend that the US's approach towards North Korea was increasing the prospect of nuclear war, in a New Year's message that included more of the combative rhetoric that complicated last year's multilateral negotiations over its nuclear programmes.

However, unlike in 2004, the message did not contain any reference to the nuclear issue, an omission likely to be interpreted positively as Pyongyang waits for President George W. Bush's inauguration later this month and details of his second-term North Korea policy.

The US and North Korea's neighbours are hoping Kim Jong-il's regime will agree in coming weeks to restart talks on dismantling its nuclear activities.

"The danger of a nuclear war is growing on the Korean peninsula as the days go by, owing to the US moves to stifle the DPRK [North Korea]," said the message, carried as an editorial in North Korea's three major newspapers - Rodong Shinmun, Josoninmingun and Chongnyonjonwi, respectively representing the Communist party, the army and the youth league.

"All Koreans should stage a powerful struggle for peace against war in order to drive the US troops out of South Korea, remove the very source of a nuclear war and defend the peace and security on the Korean peninsula," it said.

US troops have been stationed in South Korea since the end of the Korean war in 1953, but their numbers will be gradually reduced from about 33,000 now to 25,000 by 2008 as part of a wider US reshuffle.

Saying that 2004 saw a "dynamic struggle against the US imperialists' evermore undisguised brigandish aggression and high-handed practices on the international arena," the editorial told the US it must "make a switchover in its hostile policy" towards North Korea.

Pyongyang has cited the US's "hostile policies" as the primary reason for refusing to continue the talks, and a "switchover" would likely involve economic compensation and security guarantees.

But the Bush administration has insisted it will not negotiate further until the North halts its nuclear activities.

In a sign that North Korea's stance might be softening, this year's statement did not contain any of the usual rhetoric about the need for a "nuclear deterrent". A year ago it said nuclear weapons were a "defensive measure" needed to protect itself.

The editorial also called for concerted efforts to reunify the peninsula. "All the fellow countrymen in the north, the south and abroad should make a fresh advance in accomplishing the causes of national reunification this year under the slogan, 'Let's advance, holding high the flag of co-operation for national independence, co-operation for peace against war and co-operation for reunification and patriotism'," it said.