North Korea strongly denied Tuesday that it provided Syria with secret nuclear cooperation, calling the allegation a fabrication by hard-liners in Washington to block progress in the North's relations with the US.
The North's Foreign Ministry said the country has upheld its pledge made last October, when it conducted its first-ever nuclear test, that North Korea would be "a responsible nuclear power" and not transfer any nuclear material out of the country.
"We never speak empty words," the ministry said. US media reported last week that the North may be helping Syria with a secret nuclear program. Bolstering the suspicions was a senior US nuclear official who said Friday that North Koreans were in Syria and that Syria may have had contacts with "secret suppliers" to obtain nuclear equipment.
Andrew Semmel, acting deputy assistant secretary of state for nuclear nonproliferation policy, did not identify the suppliers, but said North Koreans were in Syria and that he could not exclude that the network run by the disgraced Pakistan nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan may have been involved.
The North's Foreign Ministry claimed that the suspicions are "nothing but an unskillful conspiracy" fabricated again by "impure forces" who do not want to see "progress in six-party talks and in relations between Washington and Pyongyang."
By "impure forces," the North apparently referred to US officials who have called for a stronger approach to deal with the communist nation.
Six-party talks refer to negotiations aimed at convincing North Korea to give up its nuclear programs. The forum involves China, Japan, the two Koreas, Russia and the US.
There has been progress in the nuclear negotiations in recent months, with North Korea shutting down its sole functioning nuclear reactor in July and preparing to disable its nuclear facilities under a February six-party deal.
Pyongyang has been cooperative in the nuclear disarmament talks as Washington made a series of conciliatory moves, including meeting Pyongyang's demand in a separate banking dispute with Washington.