Foreign ministry says Pyongyang has finished processing fuel rods

North Korea has issued a statement re-affirming that its nuclear weapons program is under way, in an apparent move to increase the pressure on the United States.

"As the United States has no intention to drop its hostile policy, North Korea will consistently maintain and increase its nuclear deterrent force as a just self-defensive means to repel the U.S. pre-emptive nuclear attack and ensure peace and security on the Korean Peninsula," a foreign ministry spokesman said in a statement Thursday.

In the statement carried by the official KCNA news agency, the spokesman denied reports that its nuclear facility in Yongbyon had ceased operation, and said it had made no promise to hold further talks following the six-party talks in Beijing in August.

"As we have already declared, North Korea resumed nuclear activities for a peaceful purpose, i.e., it fired up the 5-MW nuclear reactor in Yongbyon and is now stepping up the preparations for the construction of a graphite-moderated reactor," the spokesman said.

"As part of it, North Korea successfully finished the reprocessing of some 8,000 spent fuel rods," he added. The 8,000 rods are sufficient for the isolated Stalinist regime to build around six nuclear bombs, according to weapons experts. U.S. officials have also said North Korea appears to be developing a new ballistic missile capable of reaching the United States, although the missile has not yet been tested. The statement also affirmed Pyongyang's intention to continue the nuclear program in future. "We will reprocess more spent fuel rods to be churned out in an unbroken chain from the 5-MW nuclear reactor in Yongbyon without delay when we deem it necessary," the spokesman said.

"As far as the resumption of the six-way talks is concerned, North Korea did not make any promise with anyone at the Beijing talks and the same holds true even after the talks," he added.

Top negotiators from the United States, North Korea, South Korea, Japan, China, and Russia met in Beijing in late August to discuss the standoff over Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programs.

U.S. and North Korean officials met privately and informally on the sidelines of the talks, but both sides simply reiterated prior demands. The talks concluded with an agreement to continue, but no date has yet been set.

South Koreans saw the statement as a negotiating tactic which could be a prelude to the setting up of further talks. "It seems to be aimed at increasing (North Korea's) negotiating power," Yonhap news agency quoted a foreign ministry official as saying Thursday.

North Korea wants a bilateral nonaggression pact with the United States before it abandons its nuclear arms program, while the United States wants North Korea to move quickly to scrap the nuclear program first.

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