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North Korea Reviewing ‘Nuclear Issue’ to Counter U.S.

North Korea said it is reviewing the “nuclear issue” to counter the U.S., days after Kim Jong Un consolidated his power by taking the nation’s top military rank and removing the army chief.

The U.S. is funding plots to bring down the regime in Pyongyang, an unidentified Foreign Ministry spokesman said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency yesterday. The dispatch didn’t elaborate on what was meant by the nuclear review.

Kim may be preparing to follow in the footsteps of his father, Kim Jong Il, who detonated nuclear devices in 2006 and 2009, according to South Korea’s Foreign Ministry. The leader, who took power after the death in December of the elder Kim, presided over a botched long-range missile launch in April that ended a U.S. aid deal and further isolated the nation.

“I can’t confirm whether or not the North Koreans may undertake another underground nuclear test, but we are concerned about any potential for provocative action taken by North Korea,” George Little, a spokesman for the U.S. Defense Department, told reporters yesterday at the Pentagon.

The North Korean regime, which in May denied any plans to test an atomic weapon, said yesterday it arrested a traitor who was paid and directed by U.S. and South Korean intelligence agencies to stir unrest by destroying national monuments, giving the U.S. a pretext for military intervention.

Nuclear Talks

The statement shows that North Korea may change its mind and conduct a third nuclear test, said a South Korean Foreign Ministry official involved in nuclear talks, who asked not to be identified because he isn’t authorized to speak to the media. He said there was no substance to North Korea’s accusation and urged it to return to six-nation talks aimed at ending its nuclear weapons program.

North Korea accused South Korea and the U.S. of attempting to demolish statues of its founding leader, Kim Il Sung, in North Korea near the Chinese border, citing testimony from North Korean defector Jon Yong Chol.

The arrested man, Jon, was a North Korean who defected to South Korea in 2010 and then returned illegally to destroy statues celebrating the Kim family, KCNA said July 19.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which handles Seoul’s relations with North Korea, confirmed Jon’s 2010 defection. South Korea denies all the allegations of espionage, Kim Hyung Suk, a spokesman for the ministry, said by telephone.

Uranium Enrichment

The six-nation forum involving China, Japan, Russia, the U.S., South Korea and North Korea began in 2003 and hasn’t convened since 2008. The North Korean regime disclosed a uranium enrichment plant in November 2010, providing it with a second means in addition to plutonium to create nuclear weapons.

South Korea raised some military alert levels this week after Kim assumed the title of marshal and Ri Yong Ho was fired as army chief.

The Workers’ Party cited illness as the reasons for Ri’s replacement and named General Hyon Yong Chol vice marshal of the North Korean army two days later, KCNA said.

The change was probably because of a power struggle as Kim deployed military resources for infrastructure projects, analysts, including Cheong Seong Chang at Sejong Institute in Gyeonggi, said.

Military Rights

Kookmin Ilbo reported yesterday, citing unidentified South Korean government officials, that the dismissal of Ri probably is related to Kim Jong Un’s initiatives to strip his country’s military of various lucrative rights related to its economy.

The North Korean military would have controlled 70 percent of the country’s domestic output, enabling military authorities to earn foreign currencies and accumulate assets, the Seoul- based newspaper said.

North Korea repeated yesterday that Ri’s dismissal stemmed from his illness, rather than scrambles for power within the leadership. In a commentary, KCNA blamed international medias for spreading false rumors, saying there is no change in its stand to keep to the path of Songun, the path of independence, pioneered and led by Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.

To contact the reporter on this story: Sangwon Yoon in Seoul at syoon32@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Paul Tighe at ptighe@bloomberg.net; John Brinsley at jbrinsley@bloomberg.net

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