By Kim Young-jin
The United States said Wednesday it will not recognize North Korea as a nuclear weapons state, after the North said it would rejoin international dismantlement efforts only as an equal to such countries.
``We will not accept North Korea as a nuclear weapons state,'' State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters in Washington, D.C.
Earlier in the day, the North published a memorandum outlining its nuclear policy in which it vowed to continue its nuclear weapons program as it sees fit, but that it would not produce excessively or compete in an arms race.
In the memo, Pyongyang also expressed its willingness to join international disarmament efforts, if treated as an equal partner to nuclear weapons states.
Crowley reiterated the U.S. call for the North to abide by international obligations and return to the negotiations on its denuclearization.
``As we've said many, many times, if it meets its obligations, if it comes constructively back to the six-party process, then there are opportunities available to North Korea for a different relationship with the United States,'' he said
``This is not a new request from North Korea,'' Crowley said of the North's statement. ``It continues to avoid what it knows it has to do. Its current path is a dead end. North Korea ultimately has no choice but to come forward and engage the international community.''
The memorandum was released amid speculation the North is preparing to carry out a third nuclear test in May or June. South Korean cable network YTN reported Tuesday that the reclusive state has been preparing for the test since February, citing an unnamed diplomatic source.
A high-ranking North Korean defector, as well as some analysts, believes the North could be preparing for such a test, according to the AP.
The defector, the news agency reported, says the memo signifies the North's intent to push forward with its nuclear program and consolidate the power of its leader, Kim Jong-il.
Yoo Ho-yeol, a North Korea expert at Seoul's Korea University, said that though the nation is capable of doing so, a test is unlikely as it would put resumption of the six party-talks completely out of reach.
``They have already shown the possibility they have a nuclear bomb, and the US has recognized this,'' Yoo told The Korea Times, Wednesday. ``If they were to conduct a nuclear test, it would not be possible to expect the six-party talks to resume.''
The North left the denuclearization-for-aid talks after being slapped with U.N. sanctions following its second test, carried out in May last year.
Efforts to coax the North back to the table are on hold while the investigation into the March 26 sinking of the South Korean Navy vessel Cheonan ― torn in two by an explosion near the inter-Korean border ― is underway.
An external explosion likely caused the incident, increasing speculation that a North Korean torpedo or mine was responsible.
In its recently-released Nuclear Posture Review, Washington left all options open to deal with countries out of compliance with the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty ― namely North Korea and Iran.
Pyongyang responded by vowing to bolster its nuclear arsenal, calling the stance ``hostile.''
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said North Korea possess as many as six nuclear weapons.