SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea said Saturday that it showed its "nuclear deterrent" to an unofficial U.S. delegation that visited the disputed Yongbyon nuclear complex (search), which had been closed to outsiders since the North expelled U.N. inspectors more than a year ago.
A member of the delegation, which included experts and former government officials, said the five Americans were allowed to see everything they requested but it was not clear if the "nuclear deterrent" was a bomb. Delegates said they could give no further details until they reported to Washington.
The visit came amid efforts to arrange a new round of six-nation talks on ending the standoff over the North's suspected nuclear weapons program, which Pyongyang (search) says is necessary to defend the country against a possible U.S. invasion. A first round of talks in August ended without much progress.
"As everybody knows, the United States compelled the DPRK to build a nuclear deterrent," North Korea's official KCNA news agency quoted a Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying.
"We showed this to Lewis and his party this time," the spokesman said, referring one of the delegates, John W. Lewis (search), a Stanford University professor emeritus of international relations.
The delegates, who returned Saturday to Beijing, would not say how much time they spent at Yongbyon. Lewis said they met North Korean military, foreign affairs, scientific and economic officials but would not identify them or say what they discussed.
"We are a private delegation," Lewis said. "We were not there to negotiate. We were not there to be inspectors."
U.S. officials believe the North already has one or two nuclear bombs and could make several more within months. North Korea has never confirmed or denied having atomic weapons.
The delegation was the first group from outside the reclusive communist country to visit the Yongbyon facility since the expulsion of U.N. inspectors at the end of 2002.
"The delegation's visit to the facility was not an inspection but a visit at the invitation" of North Korea, the spokesman said.
The visit was to "ensure transparency as speculative reports and ambiguous information about the DPRK's nuclear activities are throwing hurdles in the way of settling the pending nuclear issue," he said, referring to North Korea by its official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
"Transparency serves as a basis of realistic thinking and, at the same time, a basis for solving the issue," he said.
Besides Lewis, the delegation included Sig Hecker, a former director of Los Alamos Laboratory (search) in New Mexico; Jack Pritchard, a former staff member of the U.S. National Security Council and a former State Department official; and two staff members of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The start of the visit Tuesday coincided with the North's announcement that it would not test or produce nuclear weapons and even stop operating its nuclear power industry, in exchange for concessions from Washington. Secretary of State Colin Powell (search) called the offer positive.
But on Friday, Pyongyang suggested that such negotiations might be tough, warning against expecting the North to follow "some Middle East countries" — an apparent reference to Libya's decision to renounce weapons of mass destruction. Libya announced such a decision last month after talks with the United States and Britain.
Washington said it hoped other countries would do the same.
"To expect any 'change' from the DPRK stand is as foolish as expecting a shower from clear sky," a Foreign Ministry spokesman said. "It is the historical truth that peace is won and defended only with strength."
Meanwhile, Japan's Asahi newspaper said Saturday that China had offered its North Korean ally $50 million in aid to take part in a new round of six-party talks.
China's No. 2 leader, Wu Bangguo, presented the offer to North Korean leader Kim Jong Il during a visit to the capital, Pyongyang, in October, the newspaper said, citing unidentified sources. It said North Korea would get the money only after the conclusion of the talks.
The nuclear standoff flared in October 2002, when U.S. officials said North Korea admitted to running a secret nuclear weapons program in violation of international agreements.