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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Seoul: N. Korea Not Nuclear Yet

SEOUL, South Korea -- South Korea's point man on the North cautioned Monday that it is premature to declare North Korea a nuclear power despite its claim to have atomic weapons.

Unification Minister Chung Dong-young noted that North Korea has yet to conduct a nuclear test, unlike other nuclear powers such as India and Pakistan.

"I believe it is early for us to call the North a nuclear state" when it has not been independently confirmed, Chung said in a speech to the South Korean Parliament.

The secretive communist nation announced Thursday that it has built nuclear weapons and would stay away from international disarmament talks.

The claim dramatically raised tensions in the two-year standoff over the North's nuclear ambitions. Chung said even senior U.S. officials who have pushed for a hard line on North Korea have said it is not clear if Pyongyang really has such arms.

Chung noted that the country has said it has atomic weapons at least 10 times since 2003.

"It's definite that North Korea possesses 10 to 14 kilograms of plutonium that can make one or two nuclear weapons," he said. However, he added there was no "conclusive evidence that North Korea made plutonium bombs" with the material, though other countries suspect the North has one or two nuclear bombs.

Chung urged Pyongyang to embrace the spirit of denuclearization, saying it would "be difficult for North Korea to become a trusted member of the international community if it holds and develops nuclear weapons."

Also on Monday, South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun received a report from his top security aides about the North's latest statement on its nuclear program and ordered them to "carefully handle" the issue, Roh's office said, without giving further details.

Opposition lawmakers were skeptical about Chung's optimism over the nuclear situation and charged that the government was not pushing the North hard enough to return to the negotiating table.

"When a father wants his son to quit smoking ... shouldn't he stop giving his son money to buy cigarettes?" said Hong Joon-pyo of the main opposition Grand National Party. "Peaceful resolution is good, but the government lacks concrete measures."

South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon was scheduled to meet U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Monday in Washington amid U.S. efforts to coax North Korea back to six-nation talks on ending its nuclear program.

North Korea said last week that it needed nuclear weapons to defend itself from the alleged threat of a U.S. invasion. Washington denies it intends to attack and insists the communist nation return to the six-party talks involving the two Koreas, the United States, China, Russia and Japan.

China pledged over the weekend to try to revive the talks, and on Monday it said it also was reaching out to Russia in efforts to bring North Korea back to talks.

"The Chinese side will make the utmost effort to work with the related parties, including Russia, to promote the process of the six-party talks," Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing told his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in a telephone call, the Chinese government said.