- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 6, 2003

SEOUL The crisis over North Korea's efforts to acquire nuclear weapons deepened yesterday with a surprise announcement by Pyongyang that it has reactivated its nuclear facilities.
The North said the reactivated facilities would, for now, be used only to produce electricity but the United States believes the facilities can produce nuclear weapons within months.
[In Washington, the State Department said that if the announcement was true, "this would be a very serious development." It demanded the North "reverse this action. … North Korea must visibly, verifiably and irreversibly dismantle its nuclear weapons program."]
A North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman said his country had restarted its nuclear facilities and was "putting operation for the production of electricity on a normal footing."
Pyongyang has "solemnly declared" that its activity would be only for "peaceful purposes, including the production of electricity, at the present stage," said the unidentified spokesman in remarks carried by the official KCNA news agency.
U.S. officials say the amount of electricity that North Korea can produce at its 5-megawatt nuclear reactor is negligible.
The nuclear complex at Yongbyon, north of Pyongyang, includes a building that stores 8,000 spent fuel rods and a reprocessing laboratory, where the North Koreans can extract weapons-grade plutonium from those fuel rods.
The North Korean spokesman did not refer to specific facilities.
Last week, U.S. officials said spy satellites have detected covered trucks apparently taking on cargo at the fuel-rod storage facility. Enough plutonium can be extracted from the spent rods to make four or five nuclear weapons within months, U.S. officials contend.
The North Korean spokesman made the announcement shortly before Secretary of State Colin L. Powell presented the U.N. Security Council with the U.S. case that Iraq has been deceiving weapons inspectors.
The timing of the announcement raised questions whether North Korea was trying to take advantage of Washington's preoccupation with Iraq to ratchet up pressure in its own standoff with the United States.
[White House spokesman Ari Fleischer discounted that Pyongyang was timing the issue with Iraq developments.
"North Korea has a history of doing things like they did in the '90s, outside of the context of Iraq," he said.]
Pyongyang wants direct talks with Washington over the nuclear issue, something U.S. officials have resisted. Analysts say North Korea, which often accuses the United States of plotting to invade it, fears Washington will turn up pressure on it if a war against Iraq is successful.
The Pentagon is weighing the possibility of bolstering U.S. forces in the region to deter the North from any provocations during a war with Iraq. Washington has said it has no plans to invade North Korea.
The United States would like the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency to refer the issue to the Security Council which would likely impose sanctions on the North.
At the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. watchdog agency, spokeswoman Melissa Fleming had no immediate comment on the report from the North.
The Vienna, Austria-based IAEA's 35-nation board of governors will meet next Wednesday on the standoff and is almost certain to send the dispute to the Security Council.
The North froze its nuclear facilities in a 1994 agreement with the United States, but the deal unraveled after U.S. revelations in October that North Korea had embarked on a second, clandestine nuclear program.
Washington and its allies suspended oil shipments in December as punishment. In response, Pyongyang said it would revive its nuclear facilities and threw out IAEA monitors, leaving the world unable to observe how the sites are used.
The North Korean spokesman criticized U.S. efforts to bring the nuclear dispute to the Security Council. North Korea wants to deal face to face with the United States and seeks a nonaggression treaty and economic aid from its No. 1 enemy.
He said that unless the Security Council confronts Washington's "wrong Korean policy," North Korea will consider the world body biased and "accordingly, not recognize it."
Earlier yesterday, South Korea opened the first cross-border land route with the North since the peninsula was divided in 1945 and called for more reconciliation efforts.
Ten buses carried 107 South Koreans on the new road to North Korea's scenic Diamond Mountain resort. The Korean border has been tightly sealed since the 1950-53 Korean War ended without a peace treaty.
South Korea believes expanded exchanges with North Korea can encourage a peaceful resolution to the current nuclear standoff.

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