PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — North Korea on July 12 insisted it needs atomic weaponry to deter a U.S. nuclear threat, and vowed never to give up its right to launch rockets as part of what it called a peaceful space program.
Washington’s aim is to “eliminate the political ideology and system our people have opted for,” Foreign Minister Pak Ui-Chun told those attending the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Regional Forum, according to a summary given to reporters by his delegation.
North Korea’s April 13 launch of a long-range rocket 13 heightened regional tensions and sank a deal with the United States reached Feb. 29. Under that agreement, the North had agreed to freeze its uranium enrichment plant and suspend nuclear and missile tests, while the U.S. promised 240,000 tons of food aid.
The U.S. and its allies described the rocket launch as a disguised missile test, while the North said its aim was only to put a satellite into orbit. The rocket failed soon after takeoff.
Pak, according to the summary, told fellow foreign ministers at the forum that it was the U.S. that scrapped the deal and was to blame for tensions on the Korean peninsula.
The United States, Japan and South Korea held a joint meeting July 12 on the sidelines of the forum, where the nations warned that “any provocation by North Korea ... will be met with a resolute and coordinated response from the international community.”
The statement also expressed “deep concern about the well-being of the North Korean people and the grave human rights situation in North Korea.”
Pak, in his comments to the gathering in Phnom Penh, cited the use of a North Korean flag as a target during a major U.S.-South Korean live-fire exercise in the South as a “clear proof of the hostile intent of the U.S.”
It said the North would never give up its sovereign right “to explore and utilize the outer space and to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purpose” by building light water reactors to generate electricity.
Pyongyang says its uranium enrichment plant is intended to fuel light water reactors to generate power. Scientists say the plant could easily be reconfigured to produce bomb-making material, supplementing its current plutonium program.
Six-party talks, which envisage a peace treaty and other benefits if the North scraps its atomic weaponry, have been stalled since December 2008.