- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 27, 2008

SEOUL | Just two months ago, North Korea blew up the cooling tower at its main nuclear reactor, a dramatic act meant to show the world it was committed to abandoning its atomic weapons ambitions.

That, coupled with a partial account of its nuclear activities, fostered optimism and led last month to the first meeting between the foreign ministers of North Korea and the United States in four years.

But on Tuesday the communist nation said it had stopped disabling its Yongbyon nuclear complex on Aug. 14 and will consider restoring the plutonium-producing facility.

North Korea squarely blamed the United States for its decision, claiming Washington failed to keep its end of the deal.

“The U.S. postponed the process of delisting the [North] as a ‘state sponsor of terrorism,’” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement carried by the state news agency. “Now that the U.S. breached the agreed points, the [North] is compelled to take” countermeasures, it said.

Most ominously, the North said it would “consider soon a step to restore” the nuclear facilities, though it provided no details.

Washington reacted calmly.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said North Korea “still has obligations,” adding that discussions were continuing. “I think we will just see where we will come out in a few weeks,” she said during a visit to Ramallah, in the West Bank.

Removing North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism was one of the key concessions the U.S. offered in exchange for North Korea’s shutting down and disabling the reactor.

In late June, the U.S. said it would remove the North from the list of state sponsors of terrorism after it turned in a long-awaited, though partial, account of its nuclear programs and blew up the reactor’s cooling tower.

The two sides have since been negotiating how to verify the nuclear declaration. Washington has been adamant that it will remove the North from the terror list only after the country agrees to a verification plan.

North Korea began disabling the nuclear facility in November, but slowed the work because of the dispute with Washington over verification.

“We’ve informed North Korea that we will take action to rescind its designation as a state sponsor of terrorism when it fulfills its commitment regarding verification,” White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said.

Sudden turnabouts by North Korea are not unusual. The United States, along with China, Japan, Russia and South Korea, have been working for five years to achieve North Korea’s denuclearization.

Though that process has been characterized by many obstacles, most notably North Korea’s underground detonation of a nuclear device in October 2006, Tuesday’s announcement marks the most serious recent challenge.

“I think this represents the biggest crisis to the denuclearization process since the February 13 agreement,” said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, referring to a landmark disarmament-for-aid deal reached last year.

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