SEOUL, South Korea – Clinging to its tough stance on its nuclear weapons operations, North Korea on Sunday blamed the United States for the growing international unease, defiantly refusing to give in to American pressure but insisting it wanted to resolve the issue peacefully.
"It is quite self-evident that dialogue is impossible without sitting face to face and a peaceful settlement of the issue would be unthinkable without dialogue," a North Korean spokesman said.
The spokesman, quoted on the country's state-run news agency KCNA, also said that the United States was "trying to threaten, blackmail and destroy us with nuclear weapons, gripped by the Cold War way of thinking."
Defying international opinion, the isolated communist nation has been moving to reactivate operations at a nuclear complex that experts say could produce weapons within months. The country recently ordered U.N. weapons inspectors to leave and disabled monitoring equipment in its nuclear facilities, effectively blinding the world's eyes into the notoriously insular country.
Late Sunday, North Korea released a statement that referred to the Nonproliferation Treaty, saying that it had declared a moratorium on its 1993 withdrawal from the treaty after Washington agreed to start talks with it, meaning that the country has no obligation to allow outside inspections.
But the country continued to insist that its latest actions were not ones of aggression.
"It is the consistent stand of the (North Korean) government to settle the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula in a peaceful way," said a commentary in Rodong Sinmun, a state-run newspaper carried by North Korea’s foreign news agency.
The newspaper described U.S. foreign policy as "aggressive and predatory," and went on to say, "The imperialist reactionaries are seriously mistaken if they think they would bring the Korean people to their knees with pressure."
North Korea has said it would address U.S. concerns about its nuclear program if Washington signs a nonaggression pact. But the Bush administration has ruled out talks unless Pyongyang first gives up its nuclear ambitions.
In appearances on several Sunday morning talk shows, Secretary of State Colin Powell said the U.S. would not appease North Korea with talks.
"They created the same situation in 1994," Powell said on Fox News Sunday. "The agreed framework did stop plutonium from being developed for a period of eight years but it did not stop North Korean ambitions. So we have to do it right this time."
Powell also said the U.S. has no plans for a pre-emptive strike against North Korea, including one against a nuclear facility.
"At the moment we're not looking at an action like that," he said on Fox News Sunday. "If one were to go after (the nuclear facility), you'd contaminate an area. And secondly, we are not looking to create a potential for conflict on the Korean Peninsula."
But the U.S. military may block Kim Jung Il's government from shipping missiles to other countries, depriving North Korea of much-needed money. One Bush administration official called it a plan of "tailored containment" to try to get the nation to stop its nuclear development.
In addition, Washington will enlist its Asian allies – South Korea, Japan and others – and the United Nations to intensify economic pressure on the North Korean capital of Pyongyang unless it abandons nuclear development, according to U.S. officials. The planned strategy is to impose sanctions on the financially struggling country, and the U.N. Security Council may discuss the matter early in 2003.
A North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman said the matter was strictly between Pyongyang and Washington, and urged other countries to resist U.S. pressure to join its diplomatic campaign against the communist country.
"What the U.S. asserts today is not the will of the international community and nobody has given it the right to represent the community," the spokesman said in a statement carried on KCNA, the North's state-run news agency. He criticized "some Western countries" that were echoing the U.S. position.
North Korean citizens came out for an anti-U.S. protest in Pyongyang, denouncing American reaction to its nuclear activities and calling for the U.S. to get out of South Korea.
Going against the world community's objections, North Korea – an isolated communist country – has been moving toward restarting operations at a nuclear complex, with plans to relaunch a nuclear reprocessing lab and reactor.
Experts say the plant could produce weapons-grade plutonium within months. The nation has said it would address U.S. concerns about its nuclear program if Washington signs a nonaggression pact – but wouldn't budge without it.
On Friday, North Korea ratcheted up tensions by throwing out U.N. inspectors who were monitoring its main nuclear complex at Yongbyon, north of Pyongyang. The government also announced it would restart a radiochemical laboratory at the complex that could be used to extract weapons-grade plutonium.
The International Atomic Energy Agency said the next day that the weapons experts will leave by Tuesday. The Vienna-based U.N. agency has warned that their expulsion would take away its only means of ensuring North Korea is not developing nuclear weapons.
Experts say 8,000 spent fuel rods now in storage could be reprocessed within months to extract enough plutonium for several bombs.
The IAEA's board of governors plans to meet on Jan. 6 in Vienna and consider referring the matter to the U.N. Security Council if North Korea does not reverse its course by then.
Fearing a nuclear crisis, South Korea has said it will appeal to China and Russia to dissuade their longtime ally North Korea from reviving its nuclear program.
"We will ask China and Russia to persuade North Korea not to aggravate the situation anymore and restore everything to its original state," a Foreign Ministry official said on condition of anonymity.
Deputy Foreign Minister Lee Tae-sik plans to visit Beijing on Jan. 2, he said. Seoul has yet to decide when to send an envoy to Moscow.
Operations at the Yongbyon complex were frozen under a 1994 agreement with Washington that U.S. officials say may have averted war.
North Korea said on Dec. 12 that it was putting the program back on line to generate badly needed energy because Washington and its allies halted delivery of heavy oil promised under the 1994 deal. The embargo was put in place after North Korea admitted in October to covertly developing nuclear weapons using enriched uranium, in violation of the agreement.
Steps by North Korea to revive the Yongbyon complex triggered international condemnation and set off a flurry of diplomatic activity by Washington and Seoul, which say they are seeking a peaceful resolution of the crisis.
Fox News' Molly Henneberg and The Associated Press contributed to this report.