SEOUL, Jan. 10 (UPI) -- North Korea said Friday it would withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty but said "it has no intention to produce nuclear weapons."
Formal withdrawal was in a letter from Ri Je Son, director general of North Korea's General Department of Atomic Energy, to Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Vienna-based U.N. nuclear watchdog.
"I am authorized to inform you hereby that the Government of the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea has decided ... to lift the moratorium on the effectuation of its withdrawal from the NPT, unilaterally observed by the DPRK thus far under the DPRK-US Joint Statement of June 11, 1993, and that its decision to withdraw from the NPT will come into effect from Jan. 11, 2003."
However, he added in the letter, "Although the DPRK is withdrawing from the NPT it has no intention to produce nuclear weapons and accordingly, our nuclear activities at the present stage will be confined to peaceful purposes such as generating electricity."
The IAEA's ElBaradei said the announcement was "a continuation of a policy of defiance and was counterproductive to ongoing efforts to achieve peace and stability in the Korean Peninsula.
"I strongly urge the DPRK to reverse its decision and to seek instead a diplomatic solution," ElBaradei said. "This is the only way to address the DPRK's security and other concerns."
As expected, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan expressed regret over North Korea's decision, saying through a spokesman that he "strongly urges reconsideration of this decision."
South Korean officials said the statement might represent another effort to achieve a deal with the United States, noting that Pyongyang made a similar announcement in 1993 after being accused of circumventing its NPT commitments. The crisis then led to an agreement in 1994 that swapped replacement energy sources for compliance.
North Korea's state-run news agency went on the offensive Friday morning local time, announcing Pyongyang's intention to withdraw from the treaty and blaming the United States for the crisis.
It has "become clear once again that the United States persistently seeks to stifle (North Korea) at any cost and the IAEA is used as a tool for executing the U.S.' hostile policy towards (North Korea)," so that "we can no longer remain bound to the NPT, allowing the country's security and the dignity of our nation to be infringed upon," said the Korean Central News Agency. A translation of the report was provided by the British Broadcasting Co.
It added that "if the United States drops its hostile policy to stifle (North Korea) and stops its nuclear threat to it, (North Korea) may prove through a separate verification ... that it does not make any nuclear weapon."
South Korean officials, noting the phrase "no intention to produce nuclear weapons," said the announcement might indicate North Korea's willingness to give up nuclear ambitions.
A senior Foreign Ministry official, speaking anonymously, told United Press International in Seoul that the announcement "seems (to be) part of an effort to have a deal with the Bush administration, rather than worsening tensions with the United States."
President-elect Roh Moo-hyun expressed regret at the move and urged Pyongyang to reverse its decision. A spokesman for Roh, Lee Nak-yon, said the incoming leader "had urged North Korea to rescind its decision to resume nuclear facility operations and asked it to at least avoid actions that will further aggravate the situation."
On Thursday, Roh, who has vowed to seek reconciliation with the North, had warned of the dangers of punishing Pyongyang over its nuclear weapons program. "The carrot may cost a lot and may not easily attract popular support, but it will be cheaper than creating dangerous situations," he said.
"North Korea's move is a two-pronged strategy of dialogue or stand-off," said Ko Yoo-hwan, a North Korea analyst at Dongguk University. "This strategy is largely aimed at putting pressure on the United States for a bilateral deal," he said.
South Koreans were surprised at the decision from Pyongyang. "I am quite concerned about North Korea's dangerous nuclear game. I feel that the North is treating the South as a hostage to its nuclear brinkmanship," said Lee Sang-tae, a 55-year-old truck driver in Seoul.
Others were less worried. "I believe the North's move is a last-minute effort to draw U.S. attention," said Kim Ki-Joon, a 23-year-old college student who urged greater U.S. efforts to resolve the issue peacefully.
Criticism flowed from around the world, however. EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said, "I regret in the strongest terms the announcement by North Korea that it intends to withdraw from the non-proliferation treaty." He said he hoped the authorities in Pyongyang would reconsider their decision and "seek the path of dialogue over that of confrontation."
Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, in Moscow on an official visit, urged President Vladimir Putin to intervene in the crisis by using his personal relationship with North Korea's leader Kim Jong Il to help mediate between Pyongyang and the outside world.
President George W. Bush consulted Chinese President Jiang Zemin by telephone Friday over North Korea's announcement of it plans to withdraw from the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and the "common purpose" of keeping the Korean peninsula free of nuclear weapons.
The White House said the conversation, initiated by Bush, lasted about 15 minutes and that both leaders viewed North Korea's latest move as "a concern to the entire international community."
"The president said that this binds us in common purpose ... and stressed the United States has no hostile intentions toward North Korea and sought a peaceful, multilateral solution to the problems caused by Pyongyang's actions," spokesman Ari Fleischer said.
(William Reilly reported from the United Nations, Jong-heon Lee from Seoul, Gareth Harding from Brussels, Anthony Louis from Moscow and Rick Thomkins from Washington.)