North Korea Denies Nuclear Brinkmanship

North Korea denied on Tuesday that its withdrawal from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty was aimed at squeezing concessions from the United States, and accused Washington of being insincere about prospects for dialogue.

Pyongyang kept up its confrontational stance as a U.S. envoy in Seoul offered the possibility of energy assistance if North Korea gives up its nuclear programs, and called for a peaceful resolution of the standoff.

The communist country's state-run news agency, KCNA, said that as a sovereign country, North Korea has the right to opt out of international agreements.

"Some countries and media describe our recent measures as brinkmanship tactics and that is a silly allegation," KCNA said in a commentary that was reported by the South Korean news agency, Yonhap.

Pyongyang withdrew from the nuclear pact last week and has threatened to drop a self-imposed moratorium on missile tests, and to operate a plant that can be used to extract weapons-grade plutonium from spent fuel rods.

North Korea has protested the suspension of U.S. fuel shipments to the impoverished country following its admission last fall of a secret nuclear weapons program. The North says it will resolve U.S. security concerns if Washington signs a nonaggression pact.

To many, the steps are a ploy by a desperately poor and isolated nation to trade its nuclear programs for much-need assistance and diplomatic ties. On Monday, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer accused North Korea of attempting blackmail.

But the KCNA report on Tuesday said North Korea's recent moves were prompted by Washington's aggressive attitude. While denying that Pyongyang posed a threat to the world, the report said the country was ready to fight any military moves against it.

The denial of brinkmanship came a day after U.S. Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly suggested the possibility of American energy aid to North Korea once the nuclear issue is resolved.

On Tuesday, Kelly met President Kim Dae-jung's two top security advisers — Lim Dong-won and Yim Sung-joon. Lim was instrumental in setting up Kim's historic summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in 2000.

"Both sides reaffirmed that they should respond calmly and discreetly to North Korean actions under the principle of resolving the problem peacefully and diplomatically," the presidential office said in a news release.

The two sides also agreed to seek cooperation from Russia, China and the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency for an "early and peaceful" resolution to the standoff, the release said.

Pyongyang appeared to dismiss such efforts, though analysts regards its harsh rhetoric as an attempt to push Washington into talks.

"The Bush warlike group has finally decided to provoke a war of aggression against North Korea, though it talks about `dialogue' and `security assurance,'" the state-run Rodong newspaper said in a commentary carried Tuesday on KCNA.

In an interview last week with The Washington Post, Secretary of State Colin Powell reiterated that the United States "had no aggressive intent." But he said the North Koreans apparently want formal assurances the United States won't attack.

North Korean state-run media also reported that rallies in support of the withdrawal from the nuclear pact were held on Sunday and Monday in the northwest of the country and in Kaesong city, close to the border with South Korea.

The international effort to defuse the confrontation and dissuade Pyongyang from building nuclear weapons widened on Tuesday when envoys from the United Nations and Australia headed to North Korea.

Murray McLean, Australia's Foreign Affairs Department's first assistant secretary for North Asia, said in Beijing en route to Pyongyang that he would express "our strong views" against nuclear proliferation.

Maurice Strong, a special adviser to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, said he would try to assess North Korea's needs for foreign food aid.