- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 8, 2002

KUMHO, North Korea Fireworks and traditional dancers yesterday accompanied the pouring by a U.S.-led consortium of the foundation of a nuclear reactor in North Korea, a milestone in efforts to keep the reclusive North from developing nuclear weapons.

But in a stern note that leavened the celebratory atmosphere, the United States warned that work would stop if Pyongyang continued to resist international inspections of its nuclear capability.

U.S. officials say they are committed to completing the building that would house the first of two light-water reactors by mid-2005, regardless of whether North Korea cooperates with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

But if the North has not allowed IAEA inspectors full access to its facilities at that point, the international consortium in charge of building the power plant will suspend all operations.

The Bush administration's decision to go ahead with the $4.6 billion project is "hard evidence" that Washington intends to fulfill its obligations under a 1994 agreement with North Korea, Jack Pritchard, the U.S. special envoy for negotiations with Pyongyang, said at the concrete-pouring ceremony.

"[We] have kept our end of the bargain," he said of the accord under which the North agreed to freeze its suspected nuclear weapons program in exchange for the reactors. "It is now time for us to see that same kind of tangible progress" by North Korea "to cooperate with the IAEA and to come into compliance with the Non-Proliferation Treaty."

In order to avoid any further delays in the project, which is already years behind schedule, Mr. Pritchard urged Pyongyang to begin cooperation with the IAEA now, so that the inspections which would take at least three to four years can finish soon after the first reactor building is completed.

Under the 1994 accord, known as the Agreed Framework, North Korea must convince IAEA inspectors that it has no hidden plutonium, the primary fuel needed to make atomic bombs. The regime of Chairman Kim Jong-il so far has refused to do so, insisting that no inspections should take place until a "significant portion" of the project is completed.

The international consortium, called the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO), took a delegation of about 150 diplomats, business representatives and journalists to yesterday's ceremony here on North Korea's northeastern coast. The guests, who came by boat from the South Korean port of Sokcho, were greeted by girls in traditional North Korean costumes as they stepped off buses at the Kumho site.

About 600 workers from the North, the South and Uzbekistan stood still in nearly perfect rows under an overcast sky, which exploded in fireworks after KEDO's executive director, Charles Kartman, and the U.S., Japanese, South Korean and European Union representatives shoveled the first spadefuls of concrete.

All five officials said in their addresses that the ceremony's significance went far beyond marking a new stage in the power plant's construction. Only ground-leveling and infrastructure-building had been done before yesterday, although the project was supposed to be completed by next year a deadline that now has been pushed back to 2008.

"This ceremony is not only about pouring concrete," said the EU representative, J.P. Leng. "It is about peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula."

Chang Sun-sup of South Korea told the workers that they "should be proud that it is your sweat and toil that will advance peace on the Korean Peninsula."

The Agreed Framework was negotiated after North Korea suddenly withdrew from the Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1993, raising tensions in the region and serious concern over its nuclear program. U.S. intelligence sources say Pyongyang still has enough plutonium to make at least one atomic bomb.

Some critics of the decision to build the plant, both in the Bush administration and the nongovernmental community, say the decision to go ahead with construction before the North cooperates with the IAEA simply has given it more time to hide any plutonium.

Others argue that North Korea continues to play the inspections game because this is the only leverage it has left during forthcoming negotiations with the United States.

Mr. Pritchard, the highest U.S. official to visit an "axis of evil" country since President Bush's State of the Union address in January, said that allowing inspectors in North Korea is a "separate issue" from any future talks between Washington and Pyongyang and that the two should not be linked.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell decided over the weekend to send Mr. Pritchard to the ceremony, ending a days-long battle between hawks and doves in the administration that had prevented the State Department from announcing the envoy's trip until the last moment.

Those who objected to Mr. Pritchard's trip argued that it might be viewed as a resumption of dialogue with the reclusive state before such a decision had been taken at the highest level. Mr. Pritchard is expected to accompany James Kelly, assistant secretary of state for Asia-Pacific affairs, on a visit to Pyongyang as early as next month.

As senior director for East Asia at the National Security Council in the Clinton White House, Mr. Pritchard was part of a delegation to Pyongyang in 2000 led by Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright.

Mr. Kartman negotiated repeatedly with the North Koreans while at Mrs. Albright's State Department before his current appointment at KEDO.

Talks with North Korea stalled after Mr. Bush assumed office in January 2001, with the exception of a few visits by Mr. Pritchard to the North's mission to the United Nations in New York.

The reporters who attended yesterday's ceremony had to abide by certain rules that were typical for the secretive North Korean society.

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