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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Linguistic Mix-Up Fans Korean Nuclear Anxiety

SEOUL, South Korea -- North Korea sowed confusion with a weekend comment that seemed to confirm for the first time the communist state has nuclear arms, then highlighted another weapons worry with a threat Monday to restart missile tests.

Analysts in Japan and South Korea, two neighbors working closely with the United States to put pressure on the North to scrap its nuclear ambitions, said Monday the North's nuclear statement looked more like a linguistic mix-up.

Just one Korean syllable separates North Korea's stock assertion of its right to possess nuclear arms from a declaration it has such weapons -- a development that would complicate allied efforts to pre-empt a new nuclear crisis on the Korean Peninsula.

On Sunday, Pyongyang Radio said the country "has come to have nuclear and other strong military weapons to deal with increased nuclear threats by the U.S. imperialists," according to Seoul's Yonhap news agency, which monitors North Korean broadcasts.

That statement appeared to go further than Pyongyang's previous remarks that it was "entitled to have nuclear weapons" in the face of threats from a U.S. government that has branded North Korea part of an "axis of evil" with Iran and Iraq.

The world's last Cold War flash point went from reconciliation to crisis prevention a month ago, when U.S. officials said North Korea had told them it had an uranium enrichment program for arms, violating a landmark 1994 agreement with Washington.

The North has demanded the United States sign a nonaggression pact to defuse the row over enriched uranium -- Washington's second nuclear proliferation dispute with Pyongyang in a decade, following a crisis over plutonium in the early 1990s. U.S. officials have said they do not know how far North Korea has gotten with its highly enriched uranium scheme.

South Korean Unification Ministry official Bae Taek-hue said the ministry had not completed a final analysis of the broadcast text, "but the report appears wrong in its wording."

Yonhap, which said Sunday the statement may have been deliberately misleading or was a rare mistake by the North Korean state broadcaster, quoted a Unification Ministry official as saying the announcer's accent had thrown Southern listeners off.

At issue is one syllable which in the announcer's Northern accent turned "is entitled to have" (kajige tui-o-itta) into "has come to have" (kajige tui-otta), the official said.

The ethnically homogeneous 48 million South Koreans and 22 million North Koreans share a common language, but there are substantial differences in pronunciation across the peninsula, which is slightly smaller than Britain.

An analyst at Radio Press in Tokyo, which monitors North Korean media, said the statement did not depart from Pyongyang's assertion on Oct. 25 it had the right to possess nuclear arms.

In 1994, at the height of an earlier North Korean nuclear crisis that was defused by the Agreed Framework, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency made public an estimate that North Korea had possibly already produced one or two nuclear weapons.