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N. Korea 'Votes' For Hard Line

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il
AP (file)
North Korea's parliament re-elected Kim Jong Il as the isolated country's top leader on Wednesday, and approved his government's decision to "keep and increase its nuclear deterrent force" to counter what it calls a hostile U.S. policy.

As Kim watched from a raised platform, the Supreme People's Assembly — a rubber-stamp body for government policy — adopted a statement that also backed the Foreign Ministry's announcement last week that North Korea no longer had "interest or expectations" for future talks on its nuclear program, according to the North's official news agency KCNA.

KCNA also reported that the parliament "decided to take relevant measures." The news agency did not elaborate.

North Korea's envoy to the six-nation talks in Beijing on the North's nuclear crisis last week warned that the reclusive state might test a nuclear device to prove itself a nuclear power, a U.S. official said on condition of anonymity.

Representatives from the United States, the two Koreas, Japan, China and Russia met last week in Beijing to discuss ways to end the nuclear crisis. After the meeting, China, North Korea's only remaining major ally, released a statement saying all six countries agreed to continue to talk.

A day after the three-day Beijing meeting ended on Friday, however, Pyongyang's Foreign Ministry angrily dismissed the need for more talks and vowed to "keep and strengthen its nuclear deterrent force as a just self-defensive means to repel the U.S. pre-emptive nuclear attacks," the parliament said.

The North appeared to soften that stance on Tuesday, when North Korean state radio reported Pyongyang was interested in pursuing dialogue.

The North Korean propaganda apparatus is known to issue vague and contradictory information.

Asked on Tuesday to comment on the apparently contradictory statements, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said, "If you comment on each one, you find yourself with a bit of whiplash."

The North's newly elected parliament, which convened Wednesday, supported the government's decision to resist future talks.

Meanwhile, cars mounted with loudspeakers went around North Korea announcing that the parliament re-elected leader Kim Jong Il as chairman of the National Defense Commission, which oversees the country's 1.1 million armed forces — the world's fifth largest military. By constitution, Kim's post is the highest in government hierarchy.

Streets were decorated with flags and flowers, brass bands struck up tunes, and school children sang songs praising Kim.

Kim, who rules the impoverished country of 22 million people with a personality cult inherited from his late father, believes that the survival of his regime depends on how profitably he plays his nuclear card, experts say. President Bush labels Kim's regime part of an "axis of evil" along with Iraq and Iran.

The parliament also appointed Park Bong Ju, its minister of chemical industries, to replace Hong Sung Nam as premier. Park's appointment was seen as reflecting Pyongyang's efforts to revive its economy.

During the Beijing talks, North Korea said the United States must sign a nonaggression treaty, open diplomatic ties and provide economic aid before it can feel safe enough to dismantle its nuclear program. The United States insisted that North Korea first scrap its nuclear program before Washington can consider providing security guarantees and help for its moribund economy.

The Beijing talks "offered the DPRK an opportunity to confirm that the Bush administration still intends to disarm the DPRK and use the multilateral talks for laying an international siege to the DPRK to isolate and stifle the DPRK," the parliamentary decision said.

On Wednesday in Seoul, Chinese parliamentary leader Wu Bangguo discussed the nuclear standoff with South Korean president Roh Moo-hyun.

"China supports a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula and a peaceful resolution. But the North's concerns must also be addressed," Wu said at a reception hosted by Chinese Ambassador Li Bin.

On Monday, China's chief delegate to the negotiations had said that Washington's policy toward North Korea was one of the main obstacles in the talks. "American's policy toward DPRK; this is a main problem we are facing," Vice Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters in the Philippines.

Despite the North's threat to boycott future meetings, other participants said the six parties reached a tentative agreement to meet again around October.
The current dispute erupted in October, when North Korea boasted of a project to process plutonium.

The U.S. subsequently cut off fuel shipments. The North responded by kicking out nuclear inspectors, renouncing the nuclear nonproliferation treaty, and vowing to reprocess fuel rods into weapons-grade plutonium and make nuclear bombs.

North Korea, which faces some 37,000 U.S. troops just across the border in South Korea, has said it feels threatened by Bush administration policies.

When Mr. Bush took office, he suspended for a time talks with North Korea that the Clinton administration conducted, and a year later listed the North as part of the "axis of evil" America confronted.

Only a few months afterward, the administration articulated a doctrine of preemptive war. In a late 2002 review of U.S. nuclear strategy, the White House listed North Korea as one of several states where "contingencies" might develop involving nuclear weapons.

Analysts suspect more practical considerations underlie the North Korean approach — that leader Kim is forcing a confrontation so as to elicit more aid for his struggling economy.

The CIA believes North Korea already has enough nuclear material to make one or two weapons, and missiles that could deliver them as far as Alaska and the Hawaiian islands.