By Park Byung-soo, Kwon Tae-ho and Jung Nam-ku, staff reporters
Seoul and Washington responded sensitively to news of North Korea listing itself as a nuclear state in its amended Constitution in April. Both governments immediately said that they would not recognize Pyongyang as a nuclear power.
North Korea openly sought nuclear capability since first declaring in a Feb. 2005 foreign ministry statement that it had succeeded in developing nuclear weapons. But South Korea, the US, and other countries disputed this, arguing that Pyongyang was attempting to gain recognition as a nuclear state outside the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) like India, Pakistan, or Israel.
Pyongyang’s decision to list itself as a nuclear state indicates that it has no intention of giving up its nuclear program. The North Korean regime apparently has not been deterred by the possibility of an international dispute, given Washington and Seoul’s refusal to recognize its right to nuclear arms.
A government official said, “With North Korea officially stating its possession of nuclear capabilities in its Constitution, denuclearization is looking even less likely. All this has done is fan apprehensions in other concerned nations.” Other analysts suggested the move was intended by domestic political concerns, specifically to legitimize Kim Jong-un as ruler.
North Korea’s declaration of nuclear power status appears in the preamble to its recently amended Constitution. The document describes the accomplishments of Kim’s father and predecessor Kim Jong-il and emphasizes the legitimacy of the hereditary succession from Kim Il-sung to Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-un.
South Korean foreign ministry spokesman Cho Byung-je said in a regular briefing Thursday that such status is recognized according to the NPT, which North Korea says it is not party to.
“North Korea cannot have nuclear state status,” Cho said.
The NPT assigns nuclear state status exclusively to five countries: the US, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, and the People’s Republic of China. North Korea withdrew from the treaty in 2003.
Cho also noted that Pyongyang had made a pledge to the international community to abandon its nuclear development plans with the Sept. 19 Joint Statement, and that two separate United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions forbade the country from developing nuclear weapons.
“If North Korea ignores its pledge and continues violating international law, it will only deepen its international isolation,” Cho said.
US State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner also indicated no change in Washington’s stance, saying on May 31 that the US government has long maintained that it would not recognize North Korea as a nuclear state.
Toner stressed the need for Pyongyang to objectively examine its policies, stop engaging in provocations, put its people ahead of its desire to become a nuclear state, and cooperate with the international community.
No immediate response came from Tokyo, but Japanese news outlets did not attribute great significance to North Korea’s decision to list itself as a nuclear state. In a brief article on the amendment in its international affairs section, the Asahi Shimbun said, “North Korea has referred to itself as a nuclear state in the past, but with this specification in its Constitution it reaffirmed the importance of its nuclear capabilities.”
The Yomiuri Shimbun reported that North Korea had referred to itself as a “nuclear state” in the preamble of its revised Constitution for the first time and said, “While it has previously described itself as a nuclear state, this latest amendment clearly specifies the nuclear program in the Constitution as a system that is viewed as a national fundamental.”
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