updated 9/25/2005 11:35:38 AM ET 2005-09-25T15:35:38

North Korea warned Sunday it had a powerful "deterrent" against a U.S. nuclear attack, criticizing moves in Washington to authorize pre-emptive use of atomic weapons against states or terrorists armed with weapons of mass destruction.

The communist nation's government did not elaborate on the deterrent, but a commentary in North Korea's official Minju Joson newspaper said that "nuclear weapons are no longer the monopoly of the U.S."

"The army and people of (North Korea) are proud of having built such a self-defensive deterrent, strong enough to protect the national dignity and security from the U.S. nuclear threat," said the commentary carried by North's Korean Central News Agency.

In February, the North publicly claimed it had nuclear weapons, but it has not performed any known tests that would confirm it can make them. Experts have said they believe the North is capable of building about six bombs.

The state-run newspaper was deriding a document being updated by the Pentagon to reflect President Bush's 2002 doctrine of pre-emption.

The revised version of the "Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations" envisions the prior use of nuclear weapons to deter terrorists from using weapons of mass destruction against the United States and its allies.

The Bush administration laid out the pre-emption doctrine months before the Iraq war began in March 2003. It argued that the United States cannot rely on its vast arsenal to deter attacks, especially from biological weapons, and must be willing to strike first to destroy the threat.

North Korea fears it might become the next U.S. target after Iraq. Bush has labeled Iran, Iraq and North Korea as the "axis of evil."

"The U.S. nuclear stick will not work" on North Korea, the newspaper said. "If the U.S. recklessly forces a nuclear war on (North Korea), its army and people will exercise their legitimate right to self-defense as a powerful means of retaliation."

North Korea has been locked in a bitter standoff with Washington over its nuclear program for nearly three years.

The two countries were part of a landmark six-nation accord last week in which the North pledged to abandon its nuclear programs in exchange for economic aid, security assurances and improved ties with the United States.

The North, however, threw that commitment into question a day later when it refused to dismantle its nuclear program unless Washington gives it civilian nuclear reactors for power generation.

The issue is expected to be the key topic when the six countries — the United States, the two Koreas, China, Japan and Russia — meet again in November.

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