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N. Korea moves nuke fuel rods

military
With one of the largest armed forces in the world North Korea says it is ready for any military confrontation

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start quoteWe are not seeking to escalate this problem, but we are not going to give in to blackmailend quote
-- U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Reeker
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As North Korea begins repairs on a closed nuclear facility, Pyongyang warned that U.S. policies are leading to the brink of war. CNN's Wolf Blitzer reports (December 25)
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NUCLEAR CRISIS
Under a 1994 agreement North Korea promised to give up its nuclear weapons program and allow inspections to verify that it did not have the material such weapons would require. The country has yet to allow the inspections.

SEOUL, South Korea (CNN) -- As promised, North Korea has started moving fuel rods to a previously mothballed nuclear reactor, beginning a process that will to lead its activation.

Mark Gwozdecky, an International Atomic Energy Agency spokesman, confirmed the actions Wednesday.

The activation of the nuclear reactor at Yongbyon requires many more rods, and it will be at least a month before they can start the reactor, Gwozdecky said.

North Korea has also begun removing U.N. seals and monitoring equipment from a fourth nuclear facility, the nuclear watchdog has warned.

In a bid to curb growing tensions on the peninsula, Russia on Wednesday called on Pyongyang to work with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), while Seoul said that U.S. and South Korean envoys will exchange visits in January.

With Pyongyang stepping up the ante in its nuclear dispute with Washington, the IAEA says the communist state has also begun repair work on a deactivated nuclear reactor.

The work is one of a series of nuclear moves made by North Korea, sparking concern among U.S. and U.N. officials who say the reclusive state could soon be building a nuclear weapon.

Over the last week, North Korea has issued a series of stronger-than-usual warnings to America, saying Washington's non-negotiating policy is pushing the two countries toward the brink of nuclear war and "uncontrollable catastrophe." (Full story)

The harsh rhetoric comes as the United States tries to handle the North Korean nuclear crisis diplomatically as it gears up for possible war with Iraq.

Along with Iran, Washington has branded Iraq and North Korea as part of an "axis of evil" -- a group President George W. Bush says represents the greatest threat to world peace.

'Blackmail'

While North Korea says it wants to open negotiations with Washington, U.S. officials say they are not prepared to talk after Pyongyang broke its 1994 pledge to freeze its nuclear program in return for U.S. funded fuel shipments and the construction of two nuclear reactors.

The deal, known as the "Agreed Framework" began unraveling in October this year, when U.S. diplomats said Pyongyang admitted having a nuclear weapons program, sparking an escalating political battle of wills.

The Bush administration says it is not looking to escalate the standoff, but it will not give into "blackmail" either.

U.S. officials believe the North Koreans are trying to get attention, and aid -- but will not want to risk additional economic sanctions or military action.

Signaling the urgency of the issue, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell spent a fourth straight day working the phones, urging the North's neighbors to pressure Pyongyang to back off.

Special envoys of the U.S. president and South Korean president-elect Roh Moo-hyun will exchange visits in early January to discuss North Korea.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly is likely to visit South Korea, and Roh's envoy will return the visit, Roh's chief spokesman, Lee Nak-yon, said Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Russia has stepped into the debate, with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Losyukov telling the ITAR-Tass news agency the nuclear stand-off "negatively affects the situation on the Korean Peninsula."

Wedge

U. S. officials say North Korea's leader Kim Jong Il is trying to drive a wedge between Washington and South Korea's Roh.

A satellite photo shows North Korea's nuclear facility at Yongbyon.
A satellite photo shows North Korea's nuclear facility at Yongbyon.

Amid a wave of anti-Americanism in that country, Roh said during the campaign he would review South Korea's alliance with America.

Now North Korea may be trying to force him to make an early choice of how independent from Washington he really intends to be, they say.

North Korea may also be trying to make the most of America being distracted by Iraq.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has already warned North Korea not to assume that America is not capable of acting militarily on two fronts, even as it prepares for a war with Iraq.

Bush is getting daily updates on the situation in North Korea and elsewhere, while he celebrates the holidays with his family at Camp David, the White House said Tuesday.



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