(ATTN: ADDS South Korean official's remarks, details in paras 9-12)
SEOUL, July 20 (Yonhap) -- North Korea said Friday it has no choice but to "totally reexamine the nuclear issue" after strongly condemning South Korea and the United States for attempting to destroy statues of its founding leader Kim Il-sung.
The statement by a spokesman at the North's foreign ministry didn't elaborate on what it meant by the reconsideration of the nuclear issue, but concerns persist that Pyongyang may conduct a third nuclear test following the botched rocket launch in April.
Earlier in the day, North Korea's media reported that a North Korean defector named Jon Yong-chol was arrested by the North for allegedly attempting to destroy the statues of Kim Il-sung.
According to the North's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), Jon said he was ordered by South Korean and U.S. intelligence authorities to launch the attacks, claims flatly denied by Seoul.
"The consistent hostile policy towards the DPRK (North Korea) pursued by the U.S. is giving rise to the evil cycle of confrontation and tensions on the Korean Peninsula, making the prospect of denuclearizing the peninsula all the more gloomy," the spokesman said in an English-language statement carried by KCNA.
"The situation compels the DPRK to totally reexamine the nuclear issue," the spokesman said, calling the case of Jon as hideous "as hurting the dignity of the supreme leadership."
After the failed rocket launch in April, North Korea said it had no plans to conduct another nuclear test "at present," but officials and analysts in Seoul have said that Pyongyang is technically prepared to carry out such a test.
North Korea's young leader Kim Jong-un, grandson of Kim Il-sung, was given the title of marshal this week, the highest functioning military rank in the North, further solidifying his grip on power seven months after he inherited the communist nation following the death of his father.
A South Korean government official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the North's intention behind the statement is likely to press the U.S. to resume a dialogue with Pyongyang.
"I think it is aimed at pressing the U.S. to change its stance," the official said, adding the statement was "interpreted as meaning that the U.S. should come forward for dialogue to ease sanctions against North Korea."
With the defiant failed rocket launch, North Korea reneged on a Feb. 29 deal with the U.S. under which Washington would resume food aid to Pyongyang in return for a monitored shutdown of the North's nuclear activities.
Diplomatic efforts to resume the six-party talks on ending the North's nuclear weapons program have been frozen since then, but North Korean Foreign Minister Pak Ui-chun said last week in Cambodia that Pyongyang was ready to restart the six-nation talks.
In a televised news conference held on Thursday in Pyongyang, the North identified the middle-aged Jon as one of the arrested terrorist suspects and aired the man's account of how the attack was conceived and arranged.
In the conference, which the North said was attended by foreign press correspondents and also covered by the (North) Korean Central News Agency, Jon claimed he was lured by a group of North Korean defectors in the South, the South's spy unit and the U.S. to steal back into the communist country to launch the attacks.
"This is the most serious act of hostility toward the DPRK (North Korea) and the most hideous politically-motivated terrorism," KCNA said in a separate report.
Jon said he was first approached by a defector named Kim Song-min who heads an anti-North group in South Korea. Kim persuaded him to work for a defectors' organization which was set up to launch attacks on the statues of North Korea's founding father Kim Il-sung.
Jon later met two South Korean intelligence agents and was promised remote-controlled explosives for the mission, he claimed.
"I set February as the month for demolition, but the 'undertaking' had to be postponed until April as the explosive device was not prepared," he said. An attack in April "would spoil the atmosphere for celebrations of the Day of the Sun," Jon quoted South Korean agents as saying, in reference to centenary celebrations of the birthday of Kim Il-sung.
"However, the 'undertaking' slated for April had to be postponed again because the explosive device was still not ready," he added. He said he was caught while loitering in a North Korean city bordering China in the early morning of June 19.
In the conference, Jon said he had defected to the South in 2010 and stayed in the South Korea's re-education institution for defectors.
A day after the North's accusation, the South Korean spy unit identified the defector as a 52-year-old of the same name who came here in November 2010. He spent three months in the rehabilitation facility before settling down in a town in Gangwon Province, west of Seoul, the unit said.
However, the North's accusations over the South Korean intelligence service's involvement are groundless, a spy agency official said. "The spy agents whom Jon identified at the conference do not even exist."
Another government official also denied the terrorist attempt accusations, saying "Kim Song-min, who Jon accused of being involved, said he is not aware (of it)."
"The accusations falsely blamed on the South seem to be aiming at diverting the source (of the alleged demolition attempts) outside of the country, mainly in order to solidify internal unity," another government official. It's regrettable that the North said so while the South is trying to reopen talks with them, he said.
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