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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Administration Sources: North Korea Threatens Nuke Weapons Test

Aired April 24, 2003 - 12:26   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And there are new developments involving North Korea, one of President Bush's other so-called members of the axis of evil.
Let's go to the State Department. Our Andrea Koppel is standing by for that -- Andrea.

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I've just spoken with a source, who has been briefed entirely on the meetings that took place yesterday in Beijing and were supposed to last until Wednesday. And this source told me that North Korean -- the North Korean representative, Li Gun, told James Kelly, both "blatantly and boldly," in this source's words, that North Korea did have nuclear weapons.

Remember, before, they have only admitted privately that they have a nuclear weapons program. Admitted that they have a nuclear weapons program, and then threatened to test them soon, to test and prove, basically becoming a declared nuclear power, which North Korea is not.

This source says that Li Gun said -- quote -- "Now, what are you going to do about it?"

The interpretation by the U.S. side is that this is clearly an implication of blackmail. North Korea is long known for its bluffing techniques, for its bluster, but this, Wolf, would be the first time that a North Korean official has threatened to test nuclear weapons.

In fact, I'm told that Li Gun turned the tables on James Kelly and said, look, if the United States is willing to give North Korea written security assurances that it will not attack, then the North would consider dismantling nuclear facilities. But he wouldn't say -- in fact, he did say that it's not possible to dismantle a nuclear bomb.

So this really puts the pressure on the Bush administration's Korea policy. As you know, there are some in this administration who believe that engagement is not the right way. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld sent a memo out last week saying that perhaps the U.S. should be looking at regime change in North Korea, the way it did in Iraq.

But as things stand right now, the U.S. policy, Wolf, is engagement, is trying to talk, but not negotiate with the North -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And these are these multilateral talks that have been going on for the past few days in Beijing, talks the North Koreans originally resisted, wanting only bilateral, one-on-one talks with the Bush administration. They blinked on that issue.

But let's get to the substance of the matter, Andrea. Going into these talks, top Bush administration officials, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and others said they assumed the North Koreans already had one, maybe two nuclear bombs. That was a given as far as the Bush administration is concerned.

What takes this beyond that, as far as concessions, that the North Korean regime may have made in these talks?

KOPPEL: Well, North Korea made an admission. This would be the first time that North Korea would have done the wink, wink, nudge, nudge, yes, we do have nuclear weapons. We know that you know that we have nuclear weapons. And that's something that goes back to the Clinton administration that U.S. intelligence had shown that North Korea had processed enough plutonium for perhaps as many as one or two nuclear bombs.

But this would be the first time that North Korea would have said, yes, we know that you know that we have them, and the first time that North Korea has threatened to test a nuclear weapon that would make it a declared nuclear power -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Something that would clearly irritate the rest of the neighborhood over there in the Far East. Andrea Koppel with some breaking news for us. Andrea, thanks very much. We'll check back with you, of course, throughout the day.

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