Seoul, Washington dismiss North Korea claim to be nuclear state

Seoul (The Korea Herald/ANN) - International efforts to denuclearise North Korea face a bigger hurdle as the communist state recently codified its atomic-armed status, which analysts see as a move to enhance its leverage in future negotiations.

Pyongyang's state-run website on Wednesday unveiled the text of its recent constitutional revision, which added "nuclear-armed state" to its preface.

"National Defense Commission Chairman Kim Jong-il has turned our fatherland into an invincible state of political ideology, a nuclear-armed state and an indomitable military power, paving the ground for the construction of a strong and prosperous nation," reads the constitution.

The constitutional revision is designed to immortalise the country's late leader Kim Jong-il and his son and successor, Jong-un. It also now refers Kim Jong-il as the "elder of world politics" and Kim Il-sung, the founding father of the nation, as the "sun of the Korean people," respectively.

It is the sixth amendment since the nation's establishment in 1948. The last revision took place in April 2010. The text was released on the website Naenara, or "my nation" in Korean.

The North has defended its decades-long nuclear program as a self-defense measure against US forces seeking to overthrow its regime.

The North has oscillated between the different legacies of the two deceased leaders. When the North negotiates with the US, it has stressed Kim Il-sung's will that the country should not have nuclear arms. When it needs to rattle the saber, it also touted Kim Jong-il's ambition to become a nuclear power.

The constitutional declaration definitely freed the regime of the founding father's legacy, posing further stumbling block on the multilateral talks involving the US, China, Japan, Russia and two Koreas.

Experts say with a young leader at the helm, the North should feel the need to consolidate his grip on power through the constitutional revision. It is in line with its efforts to stabilise the fledgling leadership, such as giving him the new title of "supreme commander," they said.

"By stipulating its (nuclear-armed) status in the constitution, North Korea can save face, maintain the system and safeguard the status quo at home. Outside, it could provide more bargaining power at the negotiating table, and emphasize that they are not a pushover and have no intention to scrap their nuclear programs," Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea professor at Dongguk University in Seoul, told The Korea Herald.

The country tested its fission bombs in 2006 and 2009 after unsuccessful rocket launches.

Tensions have already been high surrounding the Korean Peninsula following Pyongyang's latest rocket launch. The international community condemned the April 13 event, calling it a breach of a UN ban on nuclear and missile activity.

In 1985, the North signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, an international accord aimed at preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and related technology. Since its 2003 departure, the other five members - the US, Russia, China, the UK and France - have called for its return.

South Korea and the US maintain that Pyongyang should abide by international obligations under a 2005 disarmament agreement and UN Security Council resolutions that demand it forsake all atomic projects.

"North Korea is not entitled to own nuclear weapons," foreign ministry spokesperson Cho Byung-jae told a news briefing on Thursday.

"The country walked away from the NPT on its own and pledged to give up its nuclear development plan according to the Sept. 19 joint statement. Disregarding such promises and breaking international laws will only make itself more isolated and exacerbate the lives of its people."

Now, long-stalled six-party negotiations may become more difficult to resume as they lose their initial goal of denuclearising the North, some experts forecast. The talks involving the two Koreas, the US, China, Russia and Japan last took place in December 2008.

"Like it or not, the North is likely going to be a de facto nuclear nation in three to five years as its current development process nears maturity," a senior government official said on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.

"Now the problem is how to take a nuclear-equipped North Korea, not whether. We've got to reconsider the current North Korea and unification policies."

Hong Hyun-ik, a senior researcher at Sejong Institute, said that South should see the North's nuclear issue as a matter of international relations, shifting from an ethnic point of view.

"While six-party talks could serve an idealistic frame of diplomatic solutions to break the current standoff, stakeholders should continue to seek negotiation channels rather than focusing on convincing in vain the North not to develop atomic weapons," he said.

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