North Korea yesterday accused the United States of planning an invasion and vowed to annihilate any invader "to the last man," hours after expelled U.N. monitors quit the country, leaving its feared nuclear program shrouded in secrecy.
š"The U.S. is stepping up preparations for a war against [North Korea], persistently turning aside the latter's constructive proposal for concluding a nonaggression treaty," said the North's official newspaper, Rodong Sinmun.
"If the enemy invades even an inch of the inviolable territory of [North Korea], the people's army and people of [North Korea] will wipe out the aggressors to the last man," the report said.
Meanwhile, South Korea's outgoing president and president-elect questioned the workability of plans being considered by Washington to impose tough economic sanctions on North Korea to force it to give up its nuclear ambitions.
In Seoul, South Korean President Kim Dae-jung made a call today for a peaceful solution to the crisis.
"We can help resolve the North Korean nuclear problem and make peace take root on the Korean Peninsula," Mr. Kim said in a nationally broadcast New Year's message.
North Korea issued its own New Year's message urging its people to build a military-based "powerful nation." The message came in the form of a joint editorial by the country's three major newspapers representing its communist party, military and youth militia force.
North Korea ordered out the U.N. inspectors after announcing an intention to revive its long-mothballed nuclear complex at Yongbyon, which experts say could be used to produce nuclear weapons.
Escalating the crisis, North Korea's ambassador to Moscow was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying that — because of U.S. pressure — Pyongyang could not make good on its commitments under an international treaty designed to halt the spread of nuclear weapons.
Ambassador Pak Ui Chun said Washington had threatened North Korea "with a pre-emptive nuclear strike," the Interfax news agency reported.
"These conditions also make it impossible for us to abide by the treaty, whose main provision bans nuclear powers from using nuclear weapons against countries that do not have them."
"I do not believe this is a military showdown. It is a diplomatic showdown," President Bush said yesterday, adding that the confrontation could be resolved peacefully.
The two U.N. inspectors — a Lebanese man and a Chinese woman — arrived in Beijing yesterday after leaving North Korea.
"We cannot comment on anything at this stage," the man said, as he was mobbed by reporters at Beijing's Capital Airport.
An official with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), speaking on the condition of anonymity, said one inspector would remain in Beijing for a few days but the other would return to IAEA headquarters in Vienna, Austria, today.
In Vienna, an IAEA spokeswoman said expulsion of the inspectors had blinded the "eyes of the world."
"Now we virtually have no possibility to monitor North Korea's nuclear activities nor to provide any assurances to the international community that they are not producing a nuclear weapon," spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said.
Miss Fleming said the expulsions left the agency reliant on satellite imagery.
"It's a position this agency does not like to be in," she said. "We need to be on the ground at the facilities directly, in order to be in a position to verify a given country's nuclear declaration."
U.S. officials said they are considering using heavy economic pressure on the communist North, and North Korea blamed Washington for raising tensions.
South Korean President-elect Roh Moo-hyun raised doubts about the U.S. strategy.
"I am skeptical whether so-called tailored containment reportedly being considered by the United States is an effective means to control or impose a surrender on North Korea," Mr. Roh told reporters.
Mr. Roh, who begins a five-year term in February, worries that pressure could backfire and trigger armed conflicts on the world's last Cold War frontier. More than 2 million troops are massed on both sides of the Korean border.
Instead, he supports Mr. Kim's "sunshine" policy of engaging North Korea. Both South Korean leaders say dialogue is the only viable way to peacefully resolve the North's nuclear issue.
In recent weeks, North Korea removed monitoring seals and cameras from the Yongbyon facility, which was frozen under a deal with the United States in 1994.
North Korea says it is willing to resolve concerns about its nuclear program if the United States signs a nonaggression treaty. Washington rules out any talks before the North changes course.
At a time when divisions have arisen between South Korea and the United States about how to deal with the North, about 22,000 South Koreans held a New Year's Eve protest near the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, setting off fireworks and holding candles.
Organizers put on the demonstration to protest the deaths of two teenage girls killed by a U.S. military vehicle in a June road accident. But there also was strong criticism of Washington's hard line toward Pyongyang.
"We oppose U.S. policy that spawns tension on the Korean Peninsula," some signs at the rally read.
Mr. Roh requested that the United States consult South Korea, a close ally.
South Korean officials are alarmed at signs that North Korea may withdraw from the nuclear nonproliferation treaty.