- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 26, 2002

From combined dispatches
VIENNA, Austria The U.N. nuclear watchdog agency said yesterday North Korea had moved fresh fuel to a reactor that the United States says must stay mothballed because it can be used to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons.
The announcement by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) heightens a tense international confrontation that has followed the breakdown of an 8-year-old agreement restricting North Korea's nuclear program.
On Tuesday, North Korea's defense minister accused Washington of pushing the Korean Peninsula to the brink of nuclear war.
"We had noticed yesterday that they were carrying out work at the 5-megawatt reactor in Yongbyon," IAEA spokesman Mark Gwozdecky told Reuters news agency. "And we noticed that they were moving fresh fuel to the reactor."
He added that North Korean technicians had broken most of the seals and disabled U.N. surveillance devices at all four nuclear facilities at Yongbyon. The cameras had been monitoring the secretive Stalinist state's compliance with a 1994 shutdown of the plants.
"North Korea estimates that [the 5-megawatt reactor] could be up and running in one to two months," he said, adding that the U.N. agency believes it would take longer.
The IAEA is also worried about the plutonium storage and reprocessing facilities at the Yongbyon complex. A storage pond there holds some 8,000 spent irradiated fuel rods that contain large amounts of plutonium.
"The reprocessing plant could have absolutely no civilian use for North Korea," Mr. Gwozdecky said.
But he said no work was being done at the plant, capable of separating plutonium from other substances in the spent fuel. However, the South Korean news agency Yonhap quoted an unidentified South Korean government official as saying: "North Koreans are freely moving in and out of the unsealed nuclear reactor" at Yongbyon.
The facilities at Yongbyon were frozen under a 1994 agreement with the United States under which North Korea halted its nuclear arms program in exchange for oil shipments and the construction of two atomic reactors that are difficult to use for military purposes.
But the United States, South Korea and other states suspended oil shipments to North Korea this month after revelations in October that the North was operating a separate nuclear-weapons program using highly enriched uranium.
U.S. intelligence officials say enough weapons-grade plutonium had already been produced at Yongbyon to build two nuclear weapons by the time the plant was closed down in 1994.
On Saturday, North Koreans began removing the seals and disabling U.N. monitoring cameras at the 5-megawatt Yongbyon reactor after the IAEA failed to meet Pyongyang's demand that it take away the gear so it could revive the reactor.
Mr. Gwozdecky said the IAEA was keeping two inspectors in North Korea to keep an eye on the situation.
It has carried out limited inspections of North Korea's nuclear facilities since the early 1990s.
The Associated Press, quoting South Korean officials, said the North has allowed the IAEA to increase the number of inspectors at the facility to three, but the claim could not be verified.
"The organization took the step to strengthen eye checks of nuclear facilities," Chon Young-woo, a Foreign Ministry official, was quoted as saying by the Korea Times newspaper.
Mr. Chon said that the inspectors were conducting daily checks without interference from North Korean authorities.
U.N. sources meanwhile told Reuters yesterday that the IAEA governing board was tentatively planning to meet on Jan. 6 to discuss North Korea.
The board would either decide to give Pyongyang a chance to begin cooperating and hold high-level talks with the IAEA or it might decide to put the matter to the United Nations Security Council.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Monday warned North Korea not to take advantage of the Iraq crisis to further its nuclear ambitions, and he said U.S. forces were capable of fighting two wars at once.
North Korean Defense Minister Kim Il-chol was quoted on Tuesday by the North's official KCNA news agency as attacking "U.S. hawks who are pushing the situation on the Korean Peninsula to the brink of nuclear war."
North Korea maintains it has a right to possess nuclear weapons and insists that Washington sign a nonaggression pact as a basis for talks on their differences.
President Bush and South Korea's president-elect, Roh Moo-hyun, will exchange special envoys next month to discuss North Korea, Mr. Roh's chief spokesman, Lee Nak-yon, said yesterday.
Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly is likely to visit South Korea, and Mr. Roh's envoy will return the visit, he said.
In Russia, which has maintained friendly ties with North Korea, Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Losyukov expressed concern over the North's nuclear program, saying it "negatively affects the situation on the Korean Peninsula."
"In these conditions, Pyongyang's cooperation with the IAEA takes on special significance. We call on North Korea to cooperate with the agency," he said, according to the Itar-Tass news agency.

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