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North Korea raises tensions ahead of Clinton visit

Recent moves to possibly test a long-range missile may be aimed at grabbing US attention.

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The United States appears willing to accept the reality of North Korea as a nuclear power – a measure of credit that Washington has refused to give since Pyongyang exploded a nuclear device in 2006.

The potential shift in US outlook comes as Pyongyang ratchets up tensions and the new US administration formulates its policy on North Korea. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton plans to visit the region next week.

"I'm not going into terminology," Gen. Walter Sharp, commander of US forces in Korea, said Monday, but acknowledged North Korea had "successfully" conducted a nuclear test while proclaiming its desire to be a nuclear power.

General Sharp's comment fueled concerns here that the US is conceding the nuclear-power status that North Korea craves. Leon Panetta, designated to direct the Central Intelligence Agency, signaled the shift in official thinking last week when he observed at a Senate confirmation hearing that it was not clear if North Korean leader Kim Jong Il was "prepared to give up that nuclear capability."

Those comments coincided with reports of North Korea moving a long-range Taepodong-2 missile to a launch pad on the east coast, after repudiating a North-South nonaggression pact that took effect 17 years ago and appearing to harden conditions on giving up the warheads it already has.

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