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Report: N. Korean nuke test threat

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TOKYO, Japan -- North Korea is prepared to conduct a nuclear test unless the United States responds positively to its proposals for resolving a row over Pyongyang's weapons ambitions, Japanese and North Korean sources were quoted as saying by a Japanese newspaper on Saturday.

The Asahi Shimbun said this had been conveyed to U.S. envoy Jack Pritchard by a North Korean official in a secret meeting between officials from the two nations earlier this month.

Earlier this week, diplomatic sources in Tokyo told Reuters that the North was ready to declare itself a member of the nuclear club, opening the way for possible tests and increased production of weapons, unless the nuclear crisis is resolved by September 9 -- the anniversary of the communist nation's founding.

The Asahi said that a North Korean official told Pritchard: "If the United States continues its policy of pressure against us, we may be forced to take opposing measures. Such as, for example, a nuclear test."

It added that there was a possibility that any test could take place by September 9.

No Japanese foreign ministry officials were available to comment on the report.

Pyongyang has said it has finished reprocessing spent nuclear fuel that could allow it to make about half a dozen atomic bombs, but doubts persist about the accuracy of its claims.

In an earlier rhetorical clash in the long running nuclear standoff between North Korea and the U.S., Pyongyang has threatened to respond "in kind" should Washington deploy new high-tech weapons to South Korea.

"The DPRK [North Korea] will consider the ultra-modern weapons the new conservatives of the U.S. try to use as tactical nuclear weapons, which compels the DPRK to make as powerful weapons as them," read a statement issued in on Thursday by Pyongyang to mark the 50th anniversary on July 27 of the truce to end Korean War fighting.

North Korea also accused the United States of "trying to complicate the nuclear issue" by avoiding bilateral talks.

The United States has said it is considering deploying more modern weapons systems to South Korea, where it has based 37,000 troops to augment the South Korean military.

North Korea has said it possesses nuclear weapons and is building more but the United States has been unable to confirm this claim.

The statement was issued shortly after a 15-minute phone call between South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and U.S. President George W. Bush.

The two leaders agreed to keep pushing for multilateral talks to deal with the North's nuclear ambitions.

Bush told Roh he hopes to include Seoul officials in the next round of talks, according to the White House.

The United States has maintained that multilateral discussions, involving North Korea's neighbors Japan and China, as well as the South, were needed to resolve the crisis, which began last October.

There has been only one round of multilateral talks -- with the United States, North Korea and China in April -- in the effort to stop Pyongyang from ramping up its nuclear program.

But rumors of a new round of talks have followed a Chinese diplomatic mission to Pyongyang earlier this month.

Bush hopes Japan will also be involved in future discussions, White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters

Asked if he thought North Korea would agree to expanded talks, McClellan said the White House was "working on it."

North Korea has previously demanded face-to-face talks with Washington and a non-aggression treaty with the U.S. as a condition for any moves to back down from its nuclear weapons development program.

But despite the bluster, which has shifted another gear ahead of the Korean War armistice anniversary, there are indications Pyongyang might be readying to accept a Chinese compromise and agree to another round of multilateral talks.

Tensions have escalated between North Korea and the United States in recent months.

A North Korean diplomat told a state department official earlier this month the nation had finished reprocessing fuel rods at plant at Yongbyon.

There have also been reports that North Korea has a second nuclear plant that was unknown to Western observers. (Full story)

The U.S. has refused overtures from Pyongyang for a signed non-aggression pact in return for concessions on its nuclear program.

Bush officials, however, say they are making it clear the United States wants to settle the issue peacefully and diplomatically.

-- CNN White House Correspondent Dana Bash contributed to this report.


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