Tue, Oct 28, 2003 - Page 5 News List

N Korea invites US team to plant

MISSED OPPORTUNITY?Pyongyang said it would have let a group of US lawmakers visit the controversial Yongbyon nuclear complex if they had gone to North Korea


North Korea said it had planned to show a nuclear complex at the centre of its atomic crisis to a US congressional delegation whose visit to the communist country was postponed by Washington at the last minute.

The bipartisan delegation was scheduled to leave the US on Sunday for a trip that coincided with a visit to Pyongyang by a senior Chinese leader and signs of progress in the year-old impasse over North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

Curt Weldon, a Pennsylvania Republican set to head the delegation, said in a statement on Sunday the trip had been delayed after the White House withdrew its support for the visit "at the 11th hour." His spokesman confirmed the North had suggested visiting the Yongbyon site.

The White House, which has been trying to get Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons programs, said it was important to concentrate on six-way talks involving China, Japan, Russia, the two Koreas and the US.

"Given our desire to keep the focus on the six-party process, we believe that a congressional delegation visit to North Korea at this time would not be appropriate," a White House official said.

Late on Sunday, North Korea's official KCNA news agency said Weldon's delegation had been scheduled to visit the Yongbyon nuclear complex where Pyongyang has said it has reprocessed fuel rods as part of its atomic arms program.

KCNA said the North had "prepared an itinerary in such a way as to let the delegation visit the nuclear facility in Yongbyon as desired by the delegation so that it might watch on the spot the completed reprocessing and the switchover made in the use of plutonium obtained in its course."

Weldon's spokesman said North Korea had been very keen to give the delegation the chance to visit Yongbyon, north of Pyongyang.

"The North Koreans had made very strong overtures that the congressional delegation would have the opportunity to visit the Yongbyon facility," Weldon's spokesman Bud DeFlavius said.

No foreigners are known to have visited the top-secret complex since North Korea expelled UN nuclear monitors at the end of last year. It was not clear how Weldon's team could verify plutonium reprocessing without the help of experts.

North Korea's repeated efforts to escalate the nuclear crisis have met with skepticism in the capitals of the other parties to the six-way talks.

KCNA said North Korea wondered whether US President George W. Bush's administration withdrew its support for the congressional visit because it feared the team would be able to confirm progress in the North's nuclear plans.

"This, of course, is an internal affair of the United States which we have nothing to do with. But it is the view of our relevant field on this matter that this has happened because the congress delegation will have an opportunity to see for itself the nuclear facility in Yongbyon," said KCNA.

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