By Jung Sung-ki
The U.S. Department of Defense said Tuesday that the description of North Korea as a regional nuclear power in an annual defense report has nothing to do with an official U.S. policy toward the North.
``As a matter of policy, we do not recognize North Korea as a nuclear state,'' Stewart Upton, spokesman for the Department of Defense, said in a statement. ``What was contained in a recent Joint Forces Command report does not reflect official U.S. government policy regarding the status of North Korea.''
Upton added that the report ``is not meant to be a statement of policy and specifically states on the second page that the report is speculative in nature and is only intended to serve as a starting point for discussions about the future security environment.''
``We have formally communicated this clarification to the Embassy of the Republic of Korea,'' he said.
The report, titled ``Joint Operating Environment (JOE) 2008: Challenges and Implications for the Future Joint Force,'' includes Pyongyang in the list of five nuclear weapons states in Asia, alongside China, India, Pakistan and Russia.
North Korea has tested a nuclear weapon and produced sufficient fissile material to create more such weapons, said the report, published by the U.S. Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) and released Nov. 25.
The categorization stirred up controversy, as the U.S. and South Korean governments have never regarded North Korea as a nuclear state, at least officially, though Pyongyang conducted its first-ever nuclear test in October 2006, according to defense experts here.
In response, Seoul's foreign and defense ministries said they believed that Seoul and Washington still share the view that North Korea has not been declared a nuclear power.
During Tuesday's National Assembly session, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Yu Myung-hwan said his ministry confirmed from the White House that the categorization was a ``clear mistake.''
``High-level officials from South Korea and the United States have confirmed several times that North Korea is a not a nuclear state,'' Yu said. ``The agency affiliated with the Pentagon that published the report was said to have recognized its mistake.''
Pyongyang is believed to have enough plutonium to produce several nuclear weapons, but the number has yet to be confirmed officially.
U.S. President-elect Barack Obama said earlier that he believed North Korea had enough material to make up to eight nuclear weapons.
Regional powers have been pushing the North to abandon its nuclear ambitions under a 2007 disarmament-for-aid pact. Chief nuclear envoys from the United States, the two Koreas, China, Japan and Russia opened a fresh round of six-party talks in Beijing Monday to finalize the establishment of a protocol to verify the North's declaration of its nuclear programs and activities.