N. Korea Rejects Reports of Cooperation with Iran on Nulear Efforts

North Korea dismissed allegations Saturday that it is cooperating with Iran in nuclear development, accusing Western media of spreading lies to damage the communist country's reputation.

North Korea — which quit the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in early 2003 — conducted its first nuclear weapons test in October, drawing criticism from the international community and raising concerns about nuclear proliferation.

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On Wednesday, British newspaper The Daily Telegraph said North Korea was helping Iran to prepare for its own underground test, possibly before the end of this year, citing an unidentified senior European defense official.

The "assertion is nothing but a sheer lie and fabrication intended to tarnish the image of (North Korea) by charging it with nuclear proliferation," North Korea's Foreign Ministry said in a statement carried by the North's official Korean Central News Agency on Saturday.

The ministry vowed that the North would continue to honor its duty in the area of nuclear nonproliferation as a "responsible nuclear weapons state."

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At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog had seen no direct evidence of such cooperation.

Last week, an Iranian Foreign Ministry delegation led by Vice Minister Mahdi Safari met senior North Korean officials in Pyongyang and signed a three-year agreement on unspecified scientific exchanges, KCNA has said, without giving further details.

North Korea and Iran are both under intense international pressure to give up their nuclear programs. The North is believed to have sold missiles to Iran.

The North's strong denial came as the U.S., Japan, China, Russia and South Korea prepare to hold a new round of talks with North Korea aimed at shutting down its nuclear weapons program.

The talks are expected to resume as early as Feb. 8, according to officials. The previous round in December ended with no apparent progress.

The North says it has a right to nuclear weapons as a deterrent against U.S. plans to topple its communist government. The U.S. has said it has no intention of attacking the North.

Although North Korea's publicly acknowledged nuclear weapons program uses plutonium, Iran's nuclear program is based on uranium.

Iran insists its nuclear program is designed to produce energy, but Washington and European countries suspect its eventual goal is the production of weapons.