NKorea Prepares to Restart Nuclear Reactor

PANMUNJOM, Korea (AP) -- North Korea said Friday it is making "thorough preparations" to restart its nuclear reactor, accusing the United States of failing to fulfill its obligations under an international disarmament-for-aid agreement.

It was the first time the communist nation has confirmed a reversal of steps taken since last year to disable its nuclear program because of Washington's refusal to quickly remove it from a U.S. terrorism blacklist.

"We are making thorough preparations for restoration" of the Yongbyon nuclear complex, Foreign Ministry Deputy Director-General Hyun Hak Bong told reporters.

The Foreign Ministry said North Korea no longer wanted to be taken off the blacklist.

"Now that the United States' true colors have been brought to light, (North Korea) no longer wishes to be delisted as a 'state sponsor of terrorism' - and does not expect such a thing to happen," said a ministry statement carried by the country's official news agency, KCNA.

North Korea "will go its own way," it said.

Under the landmark 2007 pact - involving the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Russia and Japan - North Korea pledged to disable its nuclear program as a step toward its eventual dismantlement in exchange for diplomatic concessions and energy aid equivalent to 1 million tons of oil.

North Korea began disabling the Yongbyon complex last year, and the process was 90 percent complete, with eight of 11 key steps carried out "perfectly and flawlessly," Hyun said.

In late June, North Korea submitted a long-delayed declaration of its nuclear activities and destroyed the cooling tower of its reactor at Yongbyon in a show of its commitment to denuclearization.

But the accord ran aground in mid-August when Washington refused to take North Korea off its list of states that sponsor terrorism, saying the North first must accept a plan to verify its nuclear declaration.

North Korea responded by halting the disabling process and is now "proceeding with work to restore (Yongbyon) to its original status," Hyun said. He did not say when complex might begin operating again.

Hyun spoke in the border village of Panmunjom before talks Friday with South Korean officials on sending energy aid to the North as part of the six-nation disarmament deal. The talks concluded late Friday afternoon.

Hyun warned Washington not to press the verification issue, saying verification was never part of the disarmament deal.

"The U.S. 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."

He said forcing North Korea to comply with such an inspection would exacerbate tensions.

The White House had no immediate reaction early Friday.

South Korean and U.S. officials say it would take at least a year for North Korea to restart the reactor if it is completely disabled.

South Korean officials urged the North during the talks at the border to resume disabling its nuclear facilities, saying energy aid is linked to that process, according to a South Korean official who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with government policy.

Friday's talks - proposed by the North - indicate it does not want to completely scuttle the six-party negotiations, analysts said.

"The North is sending a message that it wants to maintain the six-party talks," said Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea expert at Seoul's Dongguk University. "The North also wants to get the remaining energy aid with winter drawing closer."

Seoul's delegate at the talks, Hwang Joon-kook, assured North Korea that it would receive the remaining energy aid it was promised.

But South Korea's foreign minister said North Korea's intentions remained unclear.

"It's still uncertain whether the North's measures are aimed at reversing the whole situation to the pre-disablement level" or are a negotiating tactic, Yu Myung-hwan told reporters in Seoul.

The tensions come amid reports that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has suffered a stroke. Kim, 66, has not been seen in public for more than a month and has missed two major public events: a military parade marking North Korea's 60th birthday and the Korean Thanksgiving holiday.


Associated Press writer Jae-soon Chang in Seoul contributed to this report.

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