Pyongyang: We'll put a torch to New York
North Korea would launch a ballistic missile attack on the United States if Washington made a pre-emptive strike against the communist state's nuclear facility, the man described as Pyongyang's "unofficial spokesman" claimed yesterday.
Kim Myong-chol, who has links to the Stalinist regime, told reporters in Tokyo that a US strike on the nuclear facility at Yongbyon "means nuclear war".
"If American forces carry out a pre-emptive strike on the Yongbyon facility, North Korea will immediately target, carry the war to the US mainland," he said, adding that New York, Washington and Chicago would be "aflame".
A pre-emptive strike on Yongbyon is one of the strategic options in the crisis over North Korea's nuclear arms program. The US has deployed 24 long-range bombers to the Pacific base of Guam capable of launching such a strike.
Mr Kim, who has written a text studied by North Korean military leaders, predicted North Korea would restart its reprocessing plant to make weapons-grade plutonium this month.
A nuclear weapon would be produced by the end of next month, with another five by the end of the year, he said. This was on top of a suspected nuclear arsenal of 100 weapons.
The ultimate aim of North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-il, was the "neutralisation of the American factor" in the region, Mr Kim said.
This would be achieved by striking a non-aggression pact with the US or becoming an "official" nuclear power, thereby making the US nuclear umbrella in the region irrelevant. "Both ways, Kim Jong-il is a winner," Mr Kim said.
"By the end of the year, I predict Bush will be in Pyongyang suing for peace," Mr Kim said. While his comments are extreme, they match the heated and belligerent rhetoric of North Korea, which has previously warned of nuclear war and turning the cities of its enemies into a "sea of ashes".
The Bush Administration yesterday made renewed calls on China and other countries in the region to help broker a solution to the crisis. In his live televised press conference, Mr Bush said North Korea's nuclear program was a regional issue.
"I say 'regional' because there's a lot of countries that have got a direct stake into whether or not North Korea has nuclear weapons," Mr Bush said. "We've got a stake as to whether North Korea has nuclear weapons. China clearly has a stake as to whether or not North Korea has a nuclear weapon."
The Bush Administration is pushing for multilateral talks with North Korea but the communist state wants direct talks with Washington.
In the meantime, diplomatic activity is continuing behind the scenes. "We have a number of diplomatic initiatives under way - some of them very, very quietly under way - to see if we cannot get a multilateral dialogue started," the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, told a US Senate Committee.
Yesterday the US also flagged the possible withdrawal of its 37,000 troops from South Korea, part of the rethink of a deployment in place since the end of the Korean War in 1953.
The US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, said the US was consulting with South Korea and he suspected "we'll end up making some adjustments there".
"Whether the forces come home or whether they will move further south of the [Korean] peninsula or whether to some neighbouring area are the kinds of things that are being sorted out," he said at a "town hall" meeting in Germany.