- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 6, 2003

North Korea yesterday threatened to seize the assets and equipment at a construction site for two new nuclear power plants being built by the United States and its allies if the Bush administration follows through on a threat to kill the project.

A spokesman for the North Korean Foreign Ministry said that an expected decision by the United States and its allies to shutter the $4.6 billion nuclear project could endanger plans for a second round of multilateral talks on Pyongyang’s military nuclear program.

The North “will never allow them to take out all the equipment, facilities, materials and technical documents … until this issue is settled,” the unnamed spokesman said in a statement transmitted by the official KCNA news service.

The nuclear plants, now less than half-built at the remote North Korean coastal village of Kumho, were to be the centerpiece of a 1994 Clinton administration deal to entice North Korea to end its secret drive for nuclear weapons.

A consortium of the United States, South Korea, Japan and the European Union is expected to announce Nov. 21 a freeze in the project, saying the North’s new nuclear programs have nullified the 1994 deal.

State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli said the North Koreans must allow the consortium to remove its assets and equipment from the site under the terms of the 1994 accord.

“All of this is happening because North Korea violated its commitments under the [agreement],” Mr. Ereli said. “That’s what started this whole thing.”

South Korea has the most workers at the Kumho site and has invested an estimated $850 million in the project to date.

“We are seriously concerned and strongly urge the North to withdraw its decision immediately,” a spokesman for the South’s Unification Ministry told reporters in Seoul yesterday.

The dispute throws a new kink into diplomatic efforts to hold a second round of talks on the North’s nuclear programs.

The United States, North and South Korea, China, Russia and Japan held an inconclusive first round of discussions in Beijing in August.

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wang Yi met with Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly, the Bush administration’s point man in the Beijing talks, for nearly three hours yesterday at the State Department on a possible resumption of the talks.

Mr. Wang, who meets with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell today, said through an interpreter after the meeting that he saw a “good opportunity” to revive the negotiations following his trip late last month to Pyongyang.

In London, North Korea’s envoy in Britain told Reuters news agency yesterday that Pyongyang had a nuclear deterrent that was ready to use and powerful enough to deter any U.S. attack.

Asked if North Korea had a nuclear bomb, Ambassador Ri Yong-ho said in an interview: “What we are saying is, a nuclear deterrent capability.” He said it would only be used in self-defense.

North Korea said last month it was prepared to demonstrate the existence of its nuclear deterrent “when an appropriate time comes.”

The Bush administration is demanding an immediate end to the North’s nuclear efforts.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has demanded a security guarantee from Washington and economic aid as his price for cooperating.

Mr. Kelly said the United States continued to work with its partners on the talks, but told reporters there was “no date” to announce yet for new talks.

The Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO) is expected to announce formally on Nov. 21 that the construction of the two light-water nuclear reactors will be suspended for a year.

U.S. officials have made clear they will oppose any effort to revive the project after that.

“Our view is the project should have no future,” Mr. Ereli said earlier this week.

The North Korean spokesman yesterday accused the United States of pressing to kill the Kumho project as a way of undermining the Beijing talks.

“What matters is why Washington is so getting on the nerves of [North Korea] at a time when the resumption of the six-party talks is high on the agenda,” the spokesman said.

Mr. Ereli said yesterday the United States did not believe the Kumho project and the Beijing talks should be linked.

Pyongyang claimed it had the right to seize the assets at Kumho if the United States and its KEDO partners failed to complete construction.

But a July 1996 protocol signed by KEDO and the North appears to back Mr. Ereli’s contention that such a seizure is not permitted.

“The property and assets of KEDO, wherever located and by whomsoever held in [North Korea], shall be immune from search, requisition, confiscation, expropriation, or any other interference,” according to the protocol.

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