SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea accused the United States on Tuesday of making a fuss by notifying allies of the communist nation's possible preparations for a nuclear test, and maintained it would stay away from international disarmament talks.
"The United States is making a fuss saying that it was notifying the International Atomic Energy Agency (search), Japan and other related countries of its own opinion that our republic may conduct an underground nuclear test in June," the North's main state-run Rodong Sinmun daily wrote in a commentary, according to the country's official Korean Central News Agency.
However, the North didn't confirm or deny it was planning such a test.
The newspaper said Washington was branding North Korea as a "nuclear criminal" in order to stifle the country. It also said the Bush administration (search) wasn't behaving normally and that the North "cannot deal with" Washington.
U.S. officials said last week that spy satellites show possible preparations for North Korea's first-ever nuclear weapons test, including the digging and refilling of a large hole at a suspected test site in northeastern Kilju (search) along with the apparent construction of a reviewing stand being erected some distance away.
North Korea claimed in February to have nuclear weapons, and international experts believe it has enough plutonium to build about six bombs. The North also recently shut down a nuclear reactor, a move that could allow it to harvest yet more plutonium.
Pyongyang (search) has refused to return to six-nation disarmament talks since last June, after three rounds ended without any breakthroughs. U.S. officials have said the deadlock can't go on forever and that other moves might be required — believed to include seeking sanctions in the U.N. Security Council.
On Tuesday, the North claimed Washington was to blame for the stalemate in the talks, which also include China, Japan, Russia and South Korea.
"Our country did everything (that) we could do to solve the problems with the highest flexibility and tolerance through the previous six-party talks," Rodong Sinmun wrote.
Over the weekend, the North appeared to soften its position on returning to talks by saying it wasn't demanding direct meetings with Washington outside the six-nation negotiations.
In Washington on Monday, State Department spokesman Tom Casey noted the United States had previously spoken directly with North Korean officials within the context of the six-party talks and said "we would certainly continue that practice" if Pyongyang returns to the table.
Meanwhile, China on Tuesday rejected the use of sanctions to prod North Korea to return to six-nation talks, saying Beijing's political and trade relations with its neighbor should be kept separate.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao (search) said Beijing had "official and normal state-to-state relations" with Pyongyang that "should not be linked to nuclear issues."
"We stand for resolving the issue through dialogue. We are not in favor of exerting pressure or imposing sanctions," Liu said.
The Washington Post reported last week that China had turned down a U.S. request to pressure North Korea to return to nuclear disarmament talks by cutting off oil supplies. Chinese officials said such a cutoff would damage the oil pipeline that links China's northeast with North Korea because of the high paraffin content in the oil, which can clog pipelines, the Post reported.
China is the North's last major ally and is believed to supply the isolated Stalinist regime with up to one-third of its food and one-quarter of its energy.