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N. Korea 'ready to show' nuke capability

From CNN White House Correspondent John King

N. Korea launched a ballistic missile of Japan in 1998, then declared a moratorium on further testing.
N. Korea launched a ballistic missile of Japan in 1998, then declared a moratorium on further testing.

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N. Korea's threat to implement nuclear weapons testing is widely seen as a bluff or a negotiating tool.
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CRAWFORD, Texas (CNN) -- North Korea has raised the stakes in its ongoing nuclear standoff with the United States, telling six-party negotiations it is preparing to publicly declare itself a nuclear power and may move to prove its capabilities through nuclear testing, administration officials in Washington tell CNN.

The White House tried to play down the development, saying it was getting "excellent" cooperation from its partners in the talks and that North Korea has a "history of making inflammatory comments that serve to isolate it from the world."

The declaration came in Beijing at talks among North Korea, the United States, China, Russia, South Korea and Japan that wrapped up on Friday, the administration officials said.

The officials said North Korea's deputy foreign minister told the gathering that his country considered the United States to be hostile and that Pyongyang was prepared to publicly declare itself to be a nuclear power.

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said North Korea also admitted it is contemplating nuclear testing and that it had the means to deliver nuclear weapons.

"My understanding is that it was done in what our people called a somewhat agitated way -- in the context of their view that we are hostile toward them and this is how they plan to respond," said one of the officials.

This official said he did not have information as to whether the North Koreans detailed any timetable for declaring their country to be a nuclear power or for possible testing.

The official said the question from the administration standpoint is "whether this is a serious and irreversible statement or part of their past pattern of starting every conversation by being threatening to see if it wins them something."

Another administration official told CNN that North Korea said "our [U.S.] hostile policy" had "left the DPRK no choice but to declare its possession of nuclear weapons" and said it "would conduct a nuclear weapons test."

Last April, during three-party talks in Beijing, North Korea warned it "would demonstrate" it had nuclear weapons -- widely interpreted as a threat to test.

But officials say during Thursday's six-party talks and during an informal one-on-one meeting Wednesday between the United States and North Korea -- Pyongyang went a step further.

In addition, this administration official said North Korea said they'll "show" they have "the means to deliver" the nukes.

North Korea agreed to a moratorium on ballistic missile testing in 1998.

In Crawford, where President Bush was on vacation, White House Deputy Press Secretary Claire Buchan declined to discuss specific statements made by North Korea at the talks.

But she did say, "North Korea has a long history of making inflammatory comments that serve to isolate it from the rest of the world."

Reeker said he had no details to offer regarding the substance of the talks.

"We're there to focus on complete verification and irreversible elimination of the nuclear weapons program in North Korea, for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, which everybody agrees is in everybody's interest. It obviously would lead to a lessening of tensions and far greater peace on the entire Korean Peninsula."

Earlier this year, in a joint statement with South Korea, the Bush administration said it "will not tolerate" a nuclear North Korea.

Therefore, any declaration by Pyongyang that it is a nuclear power would confront Bush with an international crisis, after months in which he has refused to use that term to describe the North Korea standoff and said he was confident it could be resolved through diplomacy.

--CNN State Department Correspondent Andrea Koppel contributed to this report from Washington


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