SEOUL, South Korea – After removing U.N. seals and tampering with surveillance equipment at frozen nuclear facilities, North Korea said Monday the "nuclear issue" could be settled if Washington signs a nonaggression treaty with it.
North Korea repeatedly has demanded such a treaty, but U.S. officials say it first must take steps to abandon nuclear development before talks can occur. The dispute resembles a 1994 nuclear crisis on the Korean Peninsula that some say nearly led to war.
"If the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula is to be settled properly, the U.S. should stop posing a nuclear threat to the DPRK and accept the DPRK's proposal for the conclusion of a nonaggression treaty between the two countries," the North's official newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, said in an editorial. DPRK stands for Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
South Korean President-elect Roh Moo-hyun met the ambassadors of Russia, China and Japan Tuesday and appealed for their countries' cooperation for a peaceful solution.
The United States says it wants a peaceful solution to the Korean problem, for it is also preparing for possible war against Iraq.
"The president-elect requested cooperation from those concerned counties to help resolve the North's nuclear issue peacefully," said Lee Nak-hyun, spokesman for the president-elect.
Lee did not say how the officials responded to the request. But their countries have expressed support for a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.
Pyongyang's speedy moves to reactivate nuclear facilities frozen under a 1994 deal with Washington have startled some in the Bush administration.
"North Korea is trying to create a situation where the United States must come to the table," said Paik Hak-soon, a North Korea expert at the Sejong Institute, an independent research center in Seoul.
Paik speculated that North Korea was eager to negotiate now, fearing U.S. success in a war against Iraq would embolden Washington to increase pressure on the North about its weapons of mass destruction.
North Korea on Monday began removing U.N. seals and "disrupting" cameras at a laboratory used to extract weapons-grade plutonium from spent fuel rods, the U.N. nuclear watchdog said.
The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, said Pyongyang this weekend unsealed a storage chamber holding 8,000 irradiated fuel rods. Security analysts say plutonium in the rods could yield four or five nuclear weapons within months, and North Korea probably made one or two such weapons in the 1990s.
North Korea says it is reactivating the 5-megawatt, Soviet-designed reactor in Yongbyon, 50 miles north of Pyongyang, to generate electricity because Washington reneged on a promise to provide energy.
IAEA and U.S. officials disputed those claims Monday.
In Washington, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said North Korea's claim about generating electricity does not hold up to analysis.
"They don't need a nuclear power plant," Rumsfeld said. "The power grid couldn't even absorb that."
Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Richard Myers said the plant "adds negligible electricity to the power grid."
North Korea often has accused the United States, its foe in the 1950-1953 Korean War, of plotting its downfall and says the 37,000 U.S. soldiers stationed in South Korea are the vanguard of an invasion force.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.