North Korea urged to reverse nuclear decision
Staff and wires
PYONGYANG, North Korea -- North Korea is being urged not to restart a nuclear power plant suspected of being used to develop atomic arms before it was mothballed eight years ago.
North Korea announced Thursday it would immediately reactivate nuclear facilities shut down under a joint agreement which Pyongyang now regards as defunct.
The announcement, which the United States has decribed as "regrettable", comes two months after North Korea admitted it has a secret and active nuclear weapons program begun years after it promised to never again pursue such a course.
Mohamed ElBaradei, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, warned that any unilateral move by the North Koreans to remove agency seals and monitoring cameras at its nuclear facilities would contravene agreements between Pyongyang and the United Nations, Associated Press reports.
The director-general called on North Korea not to do anything that would further compromise his agency's ability to monitor its nuclear material.
He said North Korea had asked his agency to remove seals and monitoring cameras from all its nuclear facilities but urged officials there to agree to leave them in place.
"It is essential that the containment and surveillance measures which are currently in place continue to be maintained, and that the DPRK not take any steps unilaterally to remove or impede the function of such seals or cameras," he said, using the acronym for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
One U.S. official told CNN Thursday that the decision to reactive the nuclear facilities is "regrettable and a step in the wrong direction," and a formal response from the Bush administration is being prepared.
But this official said the U.S. message was being closely coordinated with South Korea and Japan and would track statements already issued by those key allies in Asia.
Shortly after learning of the development Thursday, South Korean President Kim Dae-jung called an emergency national security council meeting in Seoul, according to a presidential spokeswoman.
After the two-hour meeting, the ministers issued a statement expressing strong regret and serious concern about the possibility of heightened tensions on the Korean peninsula, according to a report from South Korea's Yonhap news agency.
The statement urged Pyongyang to keep its obligation under the 1994 agreement, and called for a peaceful resolution to the situation through dialogue, according to Yonhap.
The U.S. official said the United States would make clear "we wish this is a step they do not take" and that "the United States and its allies are no threat to North Korea or the North Korean people."
The official also said, however, that the Bush administration would hold to its position that it will not respond to such statements by North Korea by offering negotiations. North Korea says it wants to resolve disputes over its nuclear program peacefully.
Another source, a senior administration official, told CNN the United States has been expecting this for the past six weeks and does "not believe it is a crisis."
But at the same time, this official noted, the situation could "get out of hand." (Full story)
For that reason, the Bush administration has decided to deliver a restrained response, regretting the situation but reiterating the president's assurance the United States has "no intention to invade" North Korea and hopes for a "peaceful solution" to the standoff with Pyongyang.
North Korea is known for its inflammatory rhetoric and for that reason, the administration official explained, Thursday's statement from Pyongyang is "measured, moderate" stuff. This is a "do I have your attention" kind of statement, he added.
In a statement from North Korea's foreign ministry reported by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), the communist North will "immediately continue the operation and construction of nuclear facilities needed for electricity production."
The statement indicated that one plant would be restarted and construction would resume on additional plants.
The 1994 "agreed framework" with the United States, Japan and South Korea froze the production and use of North Korea's nuclear facilities, at least one of which was suspected of having the capability of producing weapons-grade plutonium.
In exchange, North Korea received regular shipments of heavy fuel oil and was promised newer and safer nuclear reactors from the three countries.
North Korea said the agreed framework is no longer valid now that it stopped receiving the 500,000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil, according to KCNA.
North Korea said it is unfreezing the facilities because it needs the power generated by the nuclear plants since the fuel oil shipments were halted earlier this month.
The foreign ministry statement did not say if Pyongyang would expel international monitors at its nuclear facilities, or if they would unseal plutonium in a cooling pond at one plant -- a step that would give them nuclear capability.
The oil program was voided by the United States after it was divulged a few weeks ago that North Korea was engaged in a "highly enriched uranium program" -- violating international agreements and the agreed framework.
U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, at a Thursday news conference in Qatar, said U.S. President George W. Bush has indicated he is working with Japan, South Korea and the European Union "to embark on a diplomatic initiative to work with North Korea to see if they wouldn't reverse their position of violating these three or four agreements."
"There clearly is, has been, and I suspect will continue to be a diplomatic effort to have the North Koreans fulfill their international obligations."