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North Korea denies preparing nuclear test: Czech envoy

AFP | May 25, 2005

North Korean officials denied reports that the communist regime was preparing to conduct a nuclear test, a Czech delegation told Yonhap news agency Tuesday following a visit to Pyongyang this week.

But North Korea was still reluctant to return to six-way talks aimed at winding down its nuclear program despite recent bilateral contact with the United States in New York.

"North Korean officials said the reports of a nuclear test is nonsense," Lubomir Zaoralek, chairman of the lower house of the Czech Parliament, said in an interview with Yonhap.

Zaoralek and his team stopped over in South Korea following a four-day visit to North Korea, Yonhap said.

The six-member Czech delegation met with North Korean leaders, including Pyongyang's number two Kim Yong-Nam and Choe Tae-Bok, chairman of the North's Supreme People's Assembly, it said.

The North Korean officials dismissed speculation that Pyongyang was preparing a nuclear test as Washington's ploy to further isolate the communist state, Zaoralek said.

"But Choe Tae-Bok told me that North Korea does not want the situation to worsen," he said, adding Pyongyang reaffirmed a return to six-way nuclear talks only if Washington drops its "hostile" policy.

He said talks with the North Koreans reassured him that North Korea was willing to resolve the crisis peacefully.

North Korea has boycotted the six-way talks since the third round in June last year. Aside from the United States and North Korea, the dialogue includes China, Russia, Japan and South Korea.

After declaring itself nuclear-armed in February, the North said it had unloaded 8,000 spent fuel rods from its nuclear reactor, a step that would allow it to reprocess weapons-grade plutonium for more nuclear bombs.

Recent US media reports, quoting officials in Washington, said there were signs the North is preparing for a nuclear test.

North Korea has officiallly neither confirmed nor denied the reports.

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