News & Current Affairs

September 19, 2008

North Korea ‘to restore reactor’

North Korea ‘to restore reactor’

Hyun Hak Bong (19 September 2008)

Hyun Hak Bong said the US was making unreasonable demands

North Korea has stopped disabling the Yongbyon nuclear reactor and is making “thorough preparations” to restart it, a foreign ministry official has said.

Hyun Hak-bong said that Pyongyang had suspended work to put the plant out of action because the US had not fulfilled its part of a disarmament-for-aid deal.

When asked when it would be restored, he said: “You’ll come to know soon.”

Last month, North Korea said Washington had not removed it as promised from a list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Pyongyang was expecting to be removed after finally submitting a long-delayed account of its nuclear facilities to the six-party talks in June, in accordance with the disarmament deal it signed in 2007.

It also blew up the main cooling tower of the Yongbyon facility in a symbolic gesture of its commitment to the process.

For its part, the US says it will refuse to remove North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism until procedures by which the North’s disarmament will be verified are established.

‘Robber-like’

Mr Hyun claimed the process of decommissioning the plutonium-producing reactor at the Yongbyon plant was 90% complete.

But he said Pyongyang would respond to the US by halting the process and “proceeding with works to restore [the reactor] to its original status”.

South Koreans watch a cooling tower blowing up, file image
The main cooling tower at Yongbyon was blown up earlier this year

“You may say we have already started work to restore them,” he told reporters in the border village of Panmunjom inside the Demilitarized Zone before sitting down for talks with South Korean officials on sending energy aid to the North.

Mr Hyun also warned the US not to push for inspectors to verify the disarmament process work already undertaken, saying it was never part of the six-party deal.

“The US is insisting that we accept unilateral demands that had not been agreed upon. They want to go anywhere at any time to collect samples and carry out examinations with measuring equipment,” he said. “That means they intend to force an inspection.”

The diplomat said compelling Pyongyang to permit a “robber-like inspection method in the name of an international standard” would exacerbate tensions.

Meanwhile, South Korea said it will fulfil the deal struck at six-party talks to supply the North with a million tons of heavy fuel oil or equivalent in exchange for nuclear disablement.

Nearly half has been delivered and AFP news agency quoted a South Korean negotiator, Hwang Joon-kook, as saying the rest would be sent.

“We also want to make sure that the six-party process does not go backward,” Mr Hwang was quoted as saying.

Some South Korean officials have expressed doubt over whether the North’s claims to be reconstructing Yongbyon are genuine or a ploy to exert pressure on Washington.

In separate remarks by North Korea’s Mr Hyun, he reiterated North Korea’s rejection of reports that leader Kim Jong-il remains in ill health after suffering a stroke. He called the reports “sophism by evil people”.

‘Year to restore’

Earlier this month, reports in Japan, backed up by South Korea’s foreign ministry, claimed the North Koreans were actively reconstructing Yongbyon.

The US later said plant workers appeared to be moving equipment out of storage, but that there was no effort to reconstruct it.

Experts believe Yongbyon would take a year to restore, a view supported by a recent International Atomic Energy Agency report.

The IAEA said the regime had already removed large quantities of essential nuclear materials from Yongbyon even before it agreed to dismantle the plant.

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September 5, 2008

Envoys meet for North Korea talks

Envoys meet for North Korea talks

A file photo from February 2008 of a US inspector studying disabled nuclear equipment at Yongbyon plant in North Korea

A sticking point in talks has been how to verify North Korea’s disarmament

Negotiators from the US, South Korea and Japan are to meet in Beijing to discuss the deadlock over North Korea’s nuclear program.

The talks follow initial moves by North Korea to reverse steps to dismantle its nuclear plant at Yongbyon.

North Korea accuses the US of failing to meet its obligations under a six-nation aid-for-disarmament deal.

This week it began moving some disassembled parts out of storage and back to the Yongbyon reactor.

“We need to break the deadlock at an early date,” South Korean negotiator Kim Sook said as he left for Beijing.

“It is an important moment in which North Korea should resume the disablement measures and enter the six-way talks process.”

Stand-off with US

North Korea agreed in February 2007 to give up its nuclear ambitions in return for aid and diplomatic concessions.

Foreign camera crews prepare to film the demolition of the cooling tower at the Yongbyon nuclear plant in North Korea on 27 June

In June it handed over long-awaited details of its nuclear facilities. In return, it expected the US to remove it from the list of state sponsors of terrorism.

But the US wants North Korea to agree to a process of verifying the information – something the two sides have so far failed to do.

Last week North Korea announced it had halted disabling work at its Yongbyon nuclear reactor. Officials from countries negotiating with North Korea now say that it is moving some equipment out of storage and back to the plant.

Envoys from the US, Japan and South Korea will hold a hastily-arranged meeting later on Friday. A Chinese negotiator will join the talks on Saturday.

“There is no information on whether North Korean officials will come to Beijing,” the South Korean envoy said.

Probe delay

In a separate development, North Korea has announced that it will delay a fresh probe into the abduction of Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s to train spies.

In 2002, it admitted that it had kidnapped 13 Japanese citizens. Five have been returned and Pyongyang says the other eight died.

But Japan insists that North Korea abducted more people than it acknowledges, and wants more proof of the eight deaths.

North Korea said it would hold off on the probe until it established the policies of the new Japanese leader.

Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda announced his resignation earlier this week and the current favorite to replace him is the ruling party secretary-general, Taro Aso.

A well-known hawk, he has called for a tougher line towards North Korea – something that will worry the communist state.

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