The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, or North Korea) declared Feb. 10 that it has built an arsenal of nuclear weapons. It also announced its intention to pull out of the six-party talks aimed at denuclearization of the peninsula, but left open the possibility for a return.

North Korea blames the U.S., specifically the Bush administration, for the current tensions, and says it is still committed to working for denuclearization. A statement issued by North Korea’s foreign ministry said that the reason it pulled out of the talks was the Bush administration’s attitude toward North Korea.

“The DPRK has clarified its stand that it would not pursue anti-Americanism and [would] treat the U.S. as a friendly nation if it neither slanders the political system in the DPRK nor interferes in its internal affairs,” the statement read. “It has since made every possible effort to settle the nuclear issue and improve the bilateral relations.”

However, the Bush administration, through Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, has labeled the DPRK an “outpost of tyranny” and has said that it would not rule out the use of force against it. Also, in 2004, the Congress passed the North Korean Human Rights Act (NKHRA), which, some of the act’s architects have openly stated, was aimed at “regime change” or collapsing North Korea’s government. Leaders of South Korea and other nations have condemned the NKHRA.

U.S. peace activists have charged that the Bush administration’s policies, while purportedly part of a “war on terror” to create a safer world, actually increase the nuclear danger.

“U.S. nuclear weapons spending has quietly grown by 84 percent since 1995 — several years after the Cold War ended,” Jacqueline Cabasso, executive director of the Western States Legal Foundation, recently said. “This year the U.S. will spend nearly $7 billion to maintain and modernize nuclear warheads, usable for decades to come, and many billions more to operate and modernize its delivery and command and control systems. Altogether, the United States is spending about $40 billion annually on nuclear forces.

“Ten thousand nuclear warheads, with some 2,000 on hair-trigger alert, remain in the U.S. arsenal, each one many times more powerful than the atomic bombs dropped 60 years ago [on Hiroshima and Nagasaki],” Cabasso noted.

North Korea has been asking for bilateral talks with the United States for months, but the U.S. has rebuffed it each time. On the other hand, South Korea has been involved in a policy of “engagement” with North Korea — holding diplomatic meetings, working together to solve certain problems, and engaging in joint economic ventures, including an industrial zone in Kaisong.

This is in contrast to policies in place until very recently that treated the DPRK as an archenemy. Right-wing forces in South Korea, who were connected with the military dictatorship that was dismantled in the 1980s and who controlled the South’s parliament until recent elections, have called on the governing Uri Party to revert to the old policy of confrontation. However, while South Korea has voiced displeasure with the North’s announcement, this appears unlikely.

“There is no reason to immediately change this policy direction,” South Korea’s minister of unification Chung Dong-young was quoted as saying recently in the New York Times. The same article also said that South Korea is seeking to jumpstart bilateral talks between it and the North by proposing a high-level military summit.

Chung cautioned this week that it would be premature to declare North Korea a nuclear power. He noted that North Korea has yet to conduct a nuclear test, unlike other nuclear powers such as India and Pakistan.

All of the members of the six-party talks — South Korea, the U.S., Japan, Russia, People’s Republic of China, and North Korea itself — agree, for their own reasons, that the best possible situation would be a nuclear-free peninsula.

China, the United Nations, and others are looking into ways to resume the talks. “The DPRK has simply said it is not prepared to continue to participate in them under the conditions that they have described, but they have not annulled those and I believe that we should regard this not as the end of a negotiating process,” said Maurice Strong, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s personal envoy to the DPRK.

According to North Korea’s foreign ministry, “The DPRK’s principled stand to solve the issue through dialogue and negotiations and its ultimate goal to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula remain unchanged.”