SEOUL, South Korea, (AP) -North Korea dismissed allegations Saturday that the communist regime is cooperating with Iran in nuclear development, accusing Western media of spreading the rumor to mislead public opinion.
The “assertion is nothing but a sheer lie and fabrication intended to tarnish the image of (North Korea) by charging it with nuclear proliferation,” the North’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement carried by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency.
The Daily Telegraph, a British newspaper, this week quoted an unnamed senior European defense official as saying that North Korea is helping Iran to prepare an underground nuclear test — possibly by the end of this year.
In Davos, Switzerland, Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said his organization — the U.N. nuclear watchdog — had seen no direct evidence of such cooperation.
Last week, an Iranian Foreign Ministry delegation, led by Vice Minister Mahdi Safari, met senior North Korean officials in Pyongyang and signed a three-year agreement on unspecified scientific exchanges, KCNA said without giving any further details.
North Korea, which quit the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in early 2003, conducted its first-ever nuclear test in October, raising concerns about possible nuclear proliferation.
North Korea and Iran — both labeled by President Bush as part of an “axis of evil” along with prewar Iraq — are under growing international pressure to give up their pursuit of nuclear programs.
North Korea is believed to have sold missiles to Iran. Although North Korea’s publicly acknowledged nuclear weapons program uses plutonium, Iran’s is based on uranium.
Pyongyang’s strong denial came as the United States and its regional partners prepare to hold a new round of the international talks aimed at ridding North Korea of its nuclear weapons program.
The disarmament talks — which include the United States, China, the two Koreas, Japan and Russia — are expected to resume as early as Feb. 8, according to officials. The latest talks in December ended with no apparent progress.
The North claims it has the right to nuclear weapons as a deterrence against alleged U.S. attempts to topple the communist country. The U.S. has said it has no intention to attack the North.
Iran insists its nuclear program is intended to produce energy, but the Americans and Europeans suspect its ultimate goal is the production of weapons.