SEOUL - North Korea demanded Wednesday that the United States withdraws all its nuclear weapons from South Korea -- an action Washington says it carried out 12 years ago.
The demand appeared to be the latest attempt to portray the United States as the real military threat in the crisis over the communist North's nuclear weapons program.
"The U.S. should immediately withdraw nuclear weapons from South Korea," the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said quoting state newspapers.
"South Korea has turned into the biggest nuclear arsenal in the Far East and a nuclear attack base as over 1,000 U.S.-made nukes are deployed there," it said.
In September 1991, then U.S. President George Bush announced the withdrawal of all U.S. tactical nuclear weapons deployed abroad, including about 100 based in South Korea.
Although North Korea never publicly acknowledged the move, this helped to pave the way for the December 1991 South-North Joint Declaration on the De-nuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.
Under that pact, the rival Korean governments pledged not to test, produce, receive, store, deploy or use nuclear weapons. They also agreed to mutual inspections.
"The U.S. imperialists have gone ahead with the establishment of the "joint stealth operation force" for carrying out a pre-emptive nuclear attack operation... since they singled out the DPRK (North Korea) as part of an "axis of evil" and target of its pre-emptive nuclear attack," the Rodong Sinmun newspaper said.
That reference came on the anniversary of a speech by President Bush in which he bracketed North Korea with Iraq and Iran in an "axis of evil."
In his State of the Union speech this year, Bush accused North Korea of deceit and blackmail, but said Washington would work with its allies for a peaceful resolution of the crisis.
The nuclear crisis was sparked in October when Washington said Pyongyang had admitted to reviving a nuclear arms program it had previously agreed to shut down under a 1994 deal.
Pyongyang later expelled U.N. nuclear inspectors, removed seals from a mothballed reactor and pulled out of the treaty which seeks to prevent the spread of nuclear arms.
Copyright 2003 Reuters Ltd