Fri, Dec 27, 2002 - Page 1 News List

Kim lambastes Pyongyang over reactor restart

AFP , SEOUL

South Korea President Kim Dae-jung accused North Korea yesterday of "aggravating" a nuclear crisis as Pyongyang moved fuel rods to a reactor capable of producing weapons-grade plutonium.

Japan's Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi called the step "provocative" while Washington denounced nuclear "blackmail."

President Kim, chairing an urgent national security meeting, condemned the North's moves to reactivate a nuclear program at Yongbyon, 90km north of Pyongyang.

"Despite the international community's efforts for a peaceful resolution of the nuclear issue, North Korea moved to restart frozen nuclear facilities, further aggravating the situation," Kim was quoted as telling officials at the meeting.

But he also criticized the US for previously sidelining South Korea in handling North Korea, saying Seoul should take a leading role.

Earlier, South Korea's Foreign Ministry confirmed that North Korea has begun moving fresh fuel rods into the mothballed five-megawatt nuclear reactor at Yongbyon.

Experts said North Korea will soon load the rods on to the core of the reactor shut down for the past eight years under the 1994 Agreed Framework accord between the US and North Korea.

Under the accord, the US offered North Korea annual supplies of heavy fuel oil and two new light water nuclear reactors in return for Pyongyang's agreement to freeze its nuclear operations at Yongbyon.

But the deal fell apart following US revelations in October that Pyongyang had admitted to running a separate nuclear program based on enriched uranium technology in violation of the accord.

Throughout the nuclear dispute Pyongyang has said it is ready to sit down and talk with Washington, and even to refreeze its Yongbyon program.

President Kim of South Korea, under his "sunshine policy" of engagement with the North, has been pushing Washington to accept the offer.

But the US, pledging not to reward bad behavior and to back up to nuclear "blackmail" has ruled out negotiations.

Energy-starved North Korea began disabling International Atomic Energy Agency monitoring equipment and unsealing its nuclear facilities at Yongbyon last week citing the apparent collapse of the 1994 accord.

The North said it was in desperate need of power generation following the US-led decision last month to suspend oil shipments to the North to punish it for embarking on a new and separate uranium-based nuclear scheme.

Experts dismissed the idea that North Korea was relaunching the reactor for energy purposes.

"At its peak it would produce enough for one large office building -- a negligible amount," said Chun Young-woo, director general for International Institutions at the ministry in Seoul.

But it will produce plutonium one to two years after it opens -- a significant proliferation concern for Washington.

Of more immediate concern are the 8,000 spent fuel rods that were under seal in a cooling pond at Yongbyon and from which plutonium for making nuclear warheads can be extracted..

"That would be their last resort. Once they cross that line they should be aware of the consequences," said a senior government official here.

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