- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 20, 2005

SEOUL — North Korea said today that it would not dismantle its nuclear-weapons program until the United States first provides an atomic energy reactor, casting doubt on its commitment to a breakthrough agreement reached at international arms talks.

The North’s Foreign Ministry made the surprise demand a day after it had agreed at six-nation talks in Beijing to give up its arms efforts.

The North insisted during arms talks that began last week in Beijing that it be given a light-water reactor, a type less easily diverted for weapons use, in exchange for abandoning nuclear weapons. The agreement reached at the talks’ end yesterday in Beijing — the first since the negotiations began in August 2003 — said the six countries in the negotiations will discuss the reactor issue “at an appropriate time.”

Both the United States and Japan, members of the six-nation disarmament talks, rejected the North’s latest demand.

“This is not the agreement that they signed, and we’ll give them some time to reflect,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

Japanese Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura called the reactor demand “unacceptable.”

The Beijing agreement had called for the North to abandon its arms efforts and accept inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in exchange for energy, economic and security aid.

But the North’s statement today indicated that it was again raising the light-water reactor (LWR) demand as a prerequisite for disarming, rejoining the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and signing safeguards agreement with the IAEA.

“The U.S. should not even dream of the issue of [North Korea’s] dismantlement of its nuclear deterrent before providing LWRs,” the North’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement carried by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency.

U.S. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli had emphasized earlier in Washington that the “appropriate time” for discussing the reactor meant only after the North came into compliance with the other conditions.

During the years of debate over its weapons program, the communist nation has sometimes given confusing or dramatic statements as it publicly maneuvers for negotiating leverage.

The North’s latest position is likely to be a major sticking point in talks slated to begin in early November on implementing yesterday’s agreement.

The North had demanded during the six-nation talks in Beijing — involving China, Japan, Russia, the United States and the two Koreas — that it be allowed to keep a civilian nuclear program for power generation after it disarms.

But the United States strongly opposed the demand, and yesterday’s agreement only acknowledged that the North had “stated” its claim to that right.

The administration of President Bush has opposed anything resembling a 1994 U.S.-North Korea agreement, which promised the North two light-water reactors for power. That project stalled amid the current crisis that broke out in late 2002 over the North’s resumed nuclear-weapons program.

The deal reached in Beijing yesterday won both praise and words of caution from Mr. Bush, who questioned whether the communist state would keep its word.

Pyongyang had said it would abandon its nuclear programs and readmit international inspectors in exchange for economic aid, energy subsidies and a promise from Washington that it was not planning to attack the North.

However, the statement of “principles” — the product of two years of intense negotiating — had skirted the central issue of North Korea’s demand for a civil nuclear program, which Washington opposes.

In Washington, a restrained Mr. Bush called the three-page accord “a formula that we all hope works.”

“They have said — in principle — that they will abandon their weapons programs,” Mr. Bush told reporters after a meeting of his Homeland Security Council. “And what we have said is, ‘Great. That’s a wonderful step forward.’ But now we’ve got to verify whether that happens.”

At the United Nations, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, “We will have to tackle, I’m sure, quite difficult issues of verification of the dismantlement of the North Korean nuclear-weapons programs and other nuclear programs.”

U.S. intelligence agencies still know very little about North Korea’s covert uranium-enrichment program. It was the disclosure of the uranium program in October 2002 that triggered the most recent crisis on the Korean Peninsula.

But the Beijing deal was hailed by China and South Korea, both of whom viewed a clash between the United States and North Korea with deep unease.

South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun had called the deal “epoch-making” and “a critical opportunity to resolve the North’s nuclear issue.”

Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia Christopher Hill, the lead U.S. negotiator at the talks, told reporters in Beijing that any talk of a new North Korean civilian nuclear-energy program would have to wait until IAEA inspectors certified that the old programs were gone.

Until then, he said, talk of a “peaceful” North nuclear program “is really to talk theory rather than facts.”

In return, the statement said that the North would be given energy aid and that a “permanent peace regime” for the Korean Peninsula would be discussed “at a separate forum.”

L. Gordon Flake, executive director of the Washington-based Mansfield Center for Pacific Affairs, said that although verification would be critical, that the North had promised to abandon even “existing nuclear programs,” was a far more sweeping concession than expected.

Bill Sammon, Bill Gertz and David R. Sands in Washington and Andrew Salmon in Seoul contributed to this article.

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