- The Washington Times - Monday, July 14, 2003

NEW YORK — A former U.N. nuclear weapons inspector who has visited North Korea’s main nuclear complex says he doubts recent reports that the communist state has reprocessed all of its 8,000 spent fuel rods.

If that major step toward producing plutonium, which is used to make atom bombs, has indeed been taken, “there is a risk that personnel and parts of the reprocessing facility could have been exposed to hazardous amounts of radiation,” said the inspector, who asked not to be named.

“It could be done if [the North Koreans] used shortcuts and wanted to risk [nuclear] contamination,” he said.

South Korean media over the weekend quoted officials in Seoul as saying that the North told the United States in a July 8 meeting in New York that it had completed reprocessing all the rods. Later reports said there was no evidence it happened.

The State Department yesterday confirmed that the meeting in New York took place but declined to say whether such an assertion was made.

Also over the weekend, Japanese media quoted U.S. sources as saying that krypton, a byproduct of reprocessing, was detected near the nuclear plant at Yongbyon.

In March, North Korea said it had begun reprocessing the rods after reopening the Yongbyon complex earlier this year. In October, it admitted to having a secret uranium-enrichment program, in violation of a 1994 nuclear deal with the United States, known as the Agreed Framework.

The Bush administration has said that not every claim Pyongyang makes should be taken at face value, because there are no international inspectors currently in the North.

But the administration has warned that reprocessing the fuel rods would be a very serious development. It is trying to put together a multinational forum for talks with North Korea to resolve the nuclear issue.

Meanwhile, the president of the U.N. Security Council said yesterday that Pyongyang has complained that the United States is committing hostile acts against it by pushing for a council measure condemning the North’s nuclear program.

The council president for July, Spain’s U.N. ambassador, Inocencio Arias, said North Korean Ambassador Pak Gil-yon delivered the message in a July 2 meeting.

“He said that the United States was committing unfriendly and hostile acts towards North Korea,” Mr. Arias told reporters after briefing the council on their meeting.

“According to him, the situation is deteriorating and there should be no pressure on the Security Council about getting any statement or declaration,” Mr. Arias said. “He told me he believed the unfriendly acts by the United States should stop.”

Washington has been trying to pass the council statement for months, but China and to a certain extent Russia are blocking it.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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