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North says cameras at nuclear site to go

Dec 23,2002
North Korea confirmed yesterday through its government news agency that it has begun removing surveillance tools installed at its nuclear reactor in Yeongbyeon. Seoul said it "deeply regretted" the action, adding that the development was a further escalation of Pyeongyang's threats to reopen its nuclear facilities, which are strongly suspected as being part of a nuclear weapons development program.

The news of the removal of cameras and seals installed at the North Korean reactor site had come earlier from the International Atomic Energy Agency, which has inspectors at the Yeongbyeon site and installed the monitoring equipment.

With Seoul beginning the transition period between administrations, the government here had no comment on possible responses to the North Korean step other than to say it would step up diplomatic efforts to induce the North to give up its nuclear program. "There is no change in our position that any nuclear activity by the North is unacceptable," a senior official in Seoul said yesterday. He urged the North to replace the monitoring gear.

President-elect Roh Moo-hyun has promised to continue dialogue with the North within the framework of cooperation with Washington and Tokyo.

The Korean Central News Agency in Pyeongyang said the North had begun removing seals and cameras to "resume normal operations." The move was inevitable, the report said, because of continued pressure from the United States for it to give up the nuclear program and its need to "fill the vacuum in electric power generation" left by the cutoff of U.S. oil assistance. The reactor, however, is a research reactor that has reportedly never produced electricity.

The IAEA director general, Mohamed ElBaradei, spoke of "deep regret" at the North's action and urged that it take no further steps to end the freeze of its nuclear program. He also asked the North Koreans to allow IAEA inspectors to continue their jobs. There have been no reported efforts by Pyeongyang to expel the two IAEA inspectors at the site.

The 5-megawatt reactor was completed in 1987. It was the North's only operational reactor before it was mothballed in 1994 after the North and the United States defused rising tensions by agreeing to a shutdown of the plant in return for fuel aid and the construction of two civilian nuclear power reactors. Located in North Pyeongan province due north of Pyeongyang, the reactor has produced about 8,000 fuel rods that are now in IAEA-supervised storage at the site. If reprocessed, experts say, the material in those rods could produce several nuclear weapons. Work to build two larger reactors, of about 50 megawatts and 200 megawatts, was started in 1984 but was then suspended.

Seoul's foreign minister, Choi Sung-hong, talked by phone with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell yesterday. Reports of the phone calls said only that the two agreed to continue to work closely together and to seek more cooperation from Russia and China to force the North to end its nuclear programs.

Agence France-Presse reported yesterday that U.S. President George W. Bush told the American news magazine US News & World Report that the North's actions had brought the United States closer to two old friends, Japan and South Korea, and to two old enemies, Russia and China. Mr. Bush was quoted as saying that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's decision to break the 1994 agreement with the United States had forged or deepened those two sets of relationships.

Although the AFP report interpreted Mr. Bush's comments to the magazine as predicting that Washington would open talks with North Korea in the new year, that interpretation is questionable if based only on the substance of the quotes from Mr. Bush that the press agency carried. The magazine's interview with the U.S. president will appear in its issue dated Dec. 30, which will be on newsstands in the United States today.

by Kim Young-sae




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