Situation 'deteriorating rapidly,' envoy warned
SEOUL (AP) - Warning of an increasing threat of war, North Korea accused Washington on Tuesday of planning a major attack on the communist country even as the Pyongyang regime hosted a South Korean envoy seeking to calm nuclear tensions.
North Korea's state-run KCNA news agency said the U.S. State Department was making "a final examination" of an attack plan that American forces, with the help of South Korean troops, could carry out within hours of receiving orders.
"The situation on the Korean Peninsula is deteriorating so rapidly that an armed clash may break out quite contrary to the desire of the DPRK for the peaceful settlement of the nuclear issue," the report said, using the acronym for the North's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
The North said it was prepared to answer the threat of an attack with "the unlimited use of means." The United States has 37,000 troops in South Korea.
The current dispute began in October when U.S. officials said North Korea had admitted having a nuclear weapons program based on uranium enrichment in violation of a 1994 agreement with the United States. Washington suspended oil shipments to North Korea, which then ousted UN nuclear inspectors and pulled out of a global nuclear arms control treaty.
North Korea has frequently accused the United States of planning an attack, but Tuesday's report was more forcefully worded and more extensive than most recent statements. Washington has said repeatedly that it has no intention of attacking North Korea and wants a diplomatic solution.
Meanwhile, the South Korean envoy Lim Dong-won arrived Monday and was feted at a five-hour banquet. On Tuesday, Lim met with North Korea's No. 2 official, Kim Yong Nam, president of the parliament.
The meeting with Kim Yong Nam was considered a prelude to a possible sit-down with the North's reclusive leader, Kim Jong Il, who is considered the only northern leader with the power to make meaningful decisions on the nuclear question.
Authorities in Seoul said earlier Tuesday that chances for a meeting with Kim Jong Il were high. Lim has met with Kim three times in the past and was instrumental in setting up a North-South summit in June 2000.
The southern delegation's visit is part of Seoul's efforts to persuade North Korea to abandon its suspected nuclear weapons program.
A statement by the South Korean government said the Tuesday talks focused on "pending inter-Korean issues" but did not provide details. It said the discussions were conducted in "a serious atmosphere."
Lim also met Tuesday with Kim Young Sun, a close aide to Kim Jong Il. The two also talked Monday shortly after Lim arrived in Pyongyang with an envoy sent by South Korean president-elect Roh Moo-hyun.
South Korean officials also discussed the nuclear issue with Lim Dong Ok, the North's communist party deputy, who oversees Korean unification affairs.
Washington has refused to negotiate with Pyongyang until the North agrees to give up its nuclear program. The North is pushing for unconditional, bilateral talks with Washington.
North Korea's Foreign Ministry issued a statement Tuesday through KCNA making the same demand and rejecting any "multilateral talks" - meaning it doesn't want anyone else involved.
Pyongyang is also fiercely opposed to Washington's efforts to shift discussion of the nuclear issue to the UN Security Council, which could vote for sanctions against the already impoverished North. North Korea has said it would consider sanctions a declaration of war.
North Korea warned Seoul of armed clash'
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