NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 22 (September 25, 2008) |
*** TOPIC OF THE WEEK
North Korea Says It Is Restoring Yongbyon Nuclear Reactor
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- International efforts to end North Korea's nuclear programs faced another critical turning point last week when the socialist country said it is restoring its main nuclear reactor and is no longer interested in being removed from the U.S. list of terrorism-sponsoring countries.
The North's Foreign Ministry said on Sept. 19 it has "suspended the disablement of its nuclear facilities, and work has been underway to restore its nuclear facilities in Yongbyon to their original state since some time ago," an unnamed spokesman for the ministry said in an interview with the North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
Most recently, the North reportedly notified the U.N. nuclear watchdog that it will reintroduce atomic materials into its nuclear complex by next week, Seoul's Foreign Ministry said Sept. 24.
Pyongyang announced in late August that it had stopped disablement of its nuclear plants in protest of Washington's decision not to remove the regime from its terrorism blacklist.
In a 2007 aid-for-denuclearization deal with the United States, South Korea, China, Japan and Russia, North Korea began disabling its Yongbyon nuclear complex late last year in anticipation of 1 million tons of heavy fuel oil or alternative energy aid.
The North's official called the restarting of the reactor "a countermeasure against the action taken by the U.S. to indefinitely put on hold the effectuation of the measure for delisting the DPRK (North Korea) as a state sponsor of terrorism."
"Now that the U.S.'s true colors are brought to light," the spokesman continued, "the DPRK neither wishes to be delisted as a 'state sponsor of terrorism' nor expects such a thing to happen. It will go its own way."
North Korea began disabling its key nuclear facilities in November and provided a list of its nuclear programs in June as part of a six-nation nuclear disarmament agreement signed in October last year.
Washington promised to delist Pyongyang from the terrorism blacklist as part of a package of political and economic rewards, but has so far not made good on the promise, demanding that the North first agree to an "international standard" for verifying the declaration.
Washington's inaction, the spokesman claimed, is driven by an intent to strengthen its hostile policy toward Pyongyang, and goes against the six-party disarmament deal.
The North reaffirmed its position against the U.S.-proposed verification regime. "The U.S. seeks to make a house search of the DPRK -- which is neither a signatory to the NPT nor a member of the IAEA -- under the pretext of an 'international standard,'" the spokesman said. "This is no more than a pipe dream." Washington's claim on verification protocol is "sophism" totally denying all agreements that Pyongyang has so far reached with its five negotiating partners, the official stressed.
On Sept. 22, three days after the KCNA report, North Korea asked the U.N. nuclear watchdog to remove seals and surveillance cameras at the Yongbyon nuclear reprocessing facility, the agency's chief was quoted as saying by a foreign news agency.
"North Korea asked the agency's inspectors to remove seals and surveillance equipment to enable them to carry out tests at the reprocessing plant, which they say will not involve nuclear material," International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director Mohamed ElBaradei said, according to Reuters.
But on Sept. 24, IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said, "There are no more seals and surveillance equipment in place at the (plutonium) reprocessing facility."
"(North Korea) also informed IAEA inspectors that they plan to introduce nuclear material to the reprocessing plant in one week's time," Fleming told reporters in Vienna, where the IAEA's 35-nation board of governors is based.
South Korea expressed deep concern over North Korea's move to resume operations using nuclear materials at its mothballed nuclear reprocessing facility. "The government is deeply worried about North Korea's continued steps to restore the Yongbyon nuclear facility and urge it to resume work to disable it," Foreign Ministry spokesman Moon Tae-young said.
In Washington on Sept. 24, the U.S. urged North Korea to reverse its decision to load material into the previously disabled plutonium reprocessing plant and return to its obligations under a multilateral denuclearization deal. "We urge North Koreans to reverse their actions and to come into compliance with those obligations under the six-party framework," State Department deputy spokesman Robert Wood said in a daily news briefing.
In New York on Sept. 22, South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan said any further move by North Korea to reverse the disablement of its nuclear reactor might lead to discontinuation of energy aid to the North under a multilateral nuclear deal.
Speaking to reporters after meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Yu said, "I think we can continue providing promised heavy fuel oil and other aid to North Korea at the current stage." "I think any further aid provision might be difficult if North Korea suspends disabling on a full scale and begins restoring (the reactor), as it (disablement) is related to aid of materials," he added.
The U.S. State Department said later that North Korea has not yet reactivated the facilities but is moving closer to doing so. "They haven't gotten to that point yet and we would urge them not to get to that point," department spokesman Sean McCormack said on Sept. 22.
In New York, on Sept. 21, South Korea's chief nuclear negotiator Kim Sook said that Seoul has no "clear plan yet" on whether to take retaliatory steps against North Korea for its move to restart the key plutonium-producing reactor. He hinted, however, at suspending promised energy aid to Pyongyang if it continues to renege on its disarmament deal.
Kim's U.S. counterpart, Christopher Hill, said the six-way talks are now facing a difficult situation, adding the U.S. will continue efforts to coax Pyongyang into cooperating with a plan to verify its recent nuclear declaration. The U.S. maintains that verification is a vital precondition to removing the communist state from its list of state sponsors of terror.
South Korean negotiators said the North's intentions remain unclear. They construe the North's recent move as aimed at putting pressure on Washington to remove it from the terror list, despite the official's comments saying Pyongyang has abandoned that goal. Seoul has not ruled out the possibility that the characteristically unpredictable regime will take additional steps.
The U.S. also iterated on Sept. 22 it would not stop providing heavy fuel oil to North Korea. "We're not there at this point yet, but again, we're going to be having discussions with our allies in the six-party framework and see where we go from here," State Department deputy spokesman Robert Wood said.
Wood said U.S. President George W. Bush spoke to Chinese President Hu Jintao on Sept. 21 over the phone "about the issue and they both agreed they were going to work hard to try to make sure that the North continues on the path that is established by the six-party framework."
Some observers suspect North Korea's hardline military is taking advantage of leader Kim Jong-il's reportedly poor health to nullify the nuclear deal.
About 40 percent of the promised 1 million tons of energy aid to North Korea has so far been delivered, according to South Korean officials.
The denuclearization deal took a positive turn in June when Pyongyang provided a list of its nuclear programs and blew up the cooling tower at Yongbyon as a symbolic gesture of its commitment to the agreement. But the process hit a snag following a dispute between North Korea and the United States over how to verify Pyongyang's declaration. Reports of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's ailing health are adding to uncertainty, with many concerned about how a power vacuum in the Stalinist state might affect diplomatic relations.
Under the circumstances, U.S. President George W. Bush on Sept. 23 urged the United Nations to fully implement a U.N. resolution to impose sanctions on North Korea and Iran with the aim of preventing proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
In a speech to the U.N. General Assembly, Bush said, "We must remain vigilant against proliferation by fully implementing the terms of Security Council Resolution 1540 and enforcing sanctions against North Korea and Iran," according to a transcript released by the White House in Washington.
Bush did not make any mention of removing North Korea from the list terrorism-sponsoring states.