WASHINGTON — North Korea has as many as six nuclear weapons, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said as she pressed for international efforts to help denuclearize the volatile hermit country.
But Clinton also stressed that despite a recent new pact with Russia to reduce atomic stockpiles and a push for disarmament, the United States will keep nuclear arms so long as other countries have access to the weapons of mass destruction.
"We will not unilaterally disarm. We will maintain our nuclear deterrent," she said during a speech Friday in Louisville, Kentucky.
In a rare reference by the chief U.S. diplomat to the number of weapons held by North Korea, Clinton said Pyongyang had "between one and six nuclear weapons."
The Council on Foreign Relations think-tank said last year that the North has built between six and eight nuclear weapons.
Washington and five other regional powers have struggled to get North Korea back to the negotiating table for disarmament talks after Pyongyang walked out in April 2009 and staged its second nuclear test a month later.
But Clinton said she was confident the so-called six-party talks grouping China, the two Koreas, Japan, Russia and the United States would resume despite what she called "instability" over the North's leadership.
She pointed to Iran and North Korea -- both exempted from the new U.S. nuclear stance that vows not to attack non-nuclear states -- as countries "that have actively pursued nuclear weapons (and) are still doing so today."
"That's why we're emphasizing so much international efforts against both of them to try to denuclearize the Korean peninsula and prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons in the first place."
North Korea slammed the new U.S. nuclear policy, saying it "chilled the hard-won atmosphere for the resumption" of the stalled six-nation nuclear disarmament talks, and vowed to strengthen its own atomic arsenal, the official news agency said, citing an unidentified foreign ministry spokesman.
© AFP 2013