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North Korea ratchets up nuclear defiance

For the first time, the rogue state has admitted to having a uranium-enrichment program. It also threatened to respond militarily to any attempts to stop any of its ships suspected of carrying nuclear components.

By Donald KirkCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / June 14, 2009

North Korean military forces patrolled the Yalu River near the North Korean town of Sinuiju, opposite the Chinese border city of Dandong on Sunday.

Jacky Chen/Reuters

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North Korea has responded with defiance to the United Nations Security Council resolution condemning its May 25 nuclear test, declaring as "absolutely impossible" any chance of giving up its nuclear program and accusing the United States of maintaining a nuclear arsenal "completely within range" of its own borders.

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In the latest rhetoric from Pyongyang, the state-run newspaper Tongil Sinbo forecast a nuclear arms race in the region, saying "the Korean peninsula is becoming an area where the chances of nuclear war are the highest in the world."

That statement reflects North Korea's view that US nuclear weapons bases in Japan or in the Western Pacific pose a threat, even if the US withdrew all of its nuclear weapons from South Korea around 1990, as the US has claimed.

Against that background, North Korea says it's stepping up its own nuclear program and will respond militarily to any attempts to stop any of its ships suspected of carrying nuclear components or the missiles for firing them to distant targets.

On Sunday, one day after North Korea vowed to weaponize more spent plutonium rods and enrich uranium to produce nuclear weapons, the country's ailing leader, Kim Jong Il, expressed "great satisfaction" after inspecting a division of infantry troops, finding them ready for "combat ability in every way," the state-run North Korean Central News Agency reported.

The North's fresh defiance presents a growing challenge for President Obama as he prepares for talks Tuesday with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak.

"We cannot question the seriousness of the situation," says Paik Hak Soon, senior researcher on North Korea at South Korea's Sejong Institute. "The UNSC resolution was all-out confrontation, and North Korea is countering in its own way."

Mr. Paik says he has no doubt that North Korea is preparing for its third nuclear test while advancing its uranium enrichment program.

"There is no stopping North Korea's actions," he says.

What's the status on the North's uranium and plutonium?

The UN resolution theoretically calls for cooperation in halting proliferation of the components and technology for fabricating nuclear weapons, but North Korea is assumed to have all it needs to produce more warheads with plutonium at their core at its central nuclear complex at Yongbyon, 60 miles north of Pyongyang.