Defector's Report Stirs Nuclear Fears

SEOUL, South Korea -- North Korea could turn the capitalist South into a "sea of flames" and scorch Japan in a nuclear attack, a top Pyongyang defector was quoted as saying in a leading Seoul newspaper Tuesday.


The Chosun Ilbo daily published a document it said was written by Hwang Jang-yop last August, before he became the highest-ranked North Korean official ever to flee his famine-struck homeland.


Among other sensational assertions, the document said Pyongyang leader Kim Jong-il worshiped Hitler and often used the German word blitzkrieg, meaning lightning attack.


It said North Korea had planted a vast network of spies in the South.


But its comments on nuclear war grabbed most attention because of consuming fears -- particularly in South Korea, the United States and Japan -- that the North might have extracted enough plutonium from a Soviet-supplied reactor to construct atomic devices.


"The North can turn the South into a sea of flames and annihilate it by using nuclear and chemical weapons and rockets," the document said. "The North believes if it wages war, it will no doubt win. And if the United States intervenes, it plans to scorch Japan, although reaching mainland America would be questionable."


It was not certain whether the ambiguous phrasing intended to convey the message that North Korea definitely had a nuclear bomb, and diplomats urged caution.


"I wouldn't take it as gospel," said one Western envoy. "I'm not certain Hwang would have been in the right position to have that kind of information."


The United Nations' nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, said Tuesday that North Korea had yet to account for an amount of nuclear-grade plutonium which experts say it possesses.


The IAEA has never been able to confirm that North Korea has a nuclear device but insists it has fissionable material it is not owning up to. North Korea refuses to let inspectors check its atomic sites.


"The agency's position has not changed and the [IAEA] director general [Hans Blix] has repeated that we still have a discrepancy, that there is more plutonium in this country than has been declared," spokesman Hans-Dietrich Meyer said.


"We do not know exactly how much, only that there must be more," Meyer said at IAEA headquarters in Vienna.


North Korea agreed to dismantle its nuclear facilities in return for safer reactors promised by the United States under a landmark accord signed in Geneva in 1994. That agreement defused a crisis during which Pyongyang regularly threatened to engulf South Korea in a "sea of fire."