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Seoul seeks nuke visit report

The U.S. suspects Yongbyon (pictured here) is being used to reprocess spent nuclear fuel rods.
The U.S. suspects Yongbyon (pictured here) is being used to reprocess spent nuclear fuel rods.

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BEIJING, China -- South Korean officials are due to get a first hand report on North Korea's main nuclear facility from an unofficial U.S. delegation that visited the Yongbyon complex.

Two U.S. congressional aides arrived in Seoul following their five-day visit to North Korea to meet on Monday with South Korea's foreign and unification ministries and discuss Pyongyang's so-called "nuclear deterrent".

The two staffers, Republican aide Keith Luse and Democratic colleague Frank Jannuzi, were part of a team that visited the Yongbyon nuclear facility.

They are yet to disclose details of their findings and have warned against drawing any premature conclusions.

North Korea said Saturday it had showed them its "nuclear deterrent," but it was unclear whether that meant an atomic bomb, its weapons making technology or something else.

Reports in the Washington Post said the group was shown recently reprocessed plutonium -- the fuel used in atomic weapons

The United States suspects the Yongbyon reactor, which was reactivated more than a year ago, is being used for nuclear weapons production, although North Korea says that reactor is being used to generate electricity.

The visit was the first since North Korea restarted the Yongbyon reactor and others and expelled U.N. inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency in late 2002.

The delegation also included Professor John W. Lewis of Stanford University, and Sig Hecker, former director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory. A senior U.S. official said Jack Pritchard of the Brookings Institution also went along.

North Korea's official KCNA news agency quoted a Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying: "As everybody knows, the United States compelled the DPRK to build a nuclear deterrent. We showed this to Lewis and his party this time."

Lewis confirmed Saturday that the group met military, government, Foreign Ministry, science and economic officials.

"We were invited by the Foreign Ministry, we sent them a list of all our requests, and in those requests, they honored all of them and, indeed, when we made some additional ones, they honored all of those," Lewis said.

Hecker added: "Our hosts at the DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) were very cooperative, very courteous throughout our entire visit."

The group gave no specifics on their visit, saying they first wanted to brief U.S. officials.

Luse is surrounded by South Korean reporters upon his arrival at Incheon International airport, west of Seoul.
Luse is surrounded by South Korean reporters upon his arrival at Incheon International airport, west of Seoul.

The United States has been trying to revive six-party talks to try to reach the goal of a dismantlement of the North Korean program and a denuclearized Korean Peninsula.

Talks involving the United States, China, Russia, Japan, North and South Korea were held in Beijing in August, but no date was set for further talks.

North Korea has said it will dismantle its nuclear program only if Washington formally agrees not to attack the North, and resumes the humanitarian aid needed for North Korea's starving population.

In October 2002, the United States accused North Korea of secretly pursuing a nuclear weapons program despite a 1994 agreement to freeze those efforts and said North Korean officials admitted to the program.

Pyongyang claims to have reprocessed 8,000 fuel rods from the Yongbyon nuclear reactor -- fuel that could be used in nuclear weapons. U.S. officials have estimated that plutonium obtained from the rods could be used to build between six and 12 nuclear warheads, but have been unable to verify Pyongyang's claims.

The Yongbyon nuclear complex is about 55 miles (90 km) from Pyongyang.

U.S. President George W. Bush has branded North Korea as part of an "axis of evil" states that support terrorism.

Beijing Bureau Chief Jaime Florcruz contributed to this report.

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