Friday, May 28, 2004

The Bush administration plans to cancel an international project to build two light-water nuclear reactors for North Korea before the end of the year, State Department officials said.

“The U.S. side sees no future for these light-water reactors,” one official said yesterday. “Come December 1, it’s a dead project.”

The U.S. position was stated during a closed-door meeting of the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO) last week in New York.

KEDO is made up of representatives of the United States, Japan, South Korea and the European Union.

A KEDO spokeswoman said the organization agreed during a May 20 meeting to keep in place the suspension of the reactor project. However, canceling the project would require a decision of the KEDO board.

Officials say South Korea favors keeping open the possibility of resuming construction of the reactors as a way to influence communist North Korea.

KEDO suspended the provision of two light-water reactors in December in response to North Korea’s development of a secret uranium-enrichment program, U.S. officials said.

The concrete foundation for the reactors was poured in August 2002, two months before North Korea disclosed to a U.S. diplomat that it had violated an agreement not to develop nuclear weapons.

The reactors were to be built under the 1994 Agreed Framework that was supposed to have ended all nuclear-weapons development by North Korea. The discovery of Pyongyang’s uranium-enrichment program led to a collapse of the Agreed Framework and to the current six-party talks

U.S. officials said North Korea raised the issue of the resumption of construction of the reactors during the latest round of talks in Beijing.

Pyongyang’s chief representative, Li Gun, asked his U.S. counterpart, Joseph DeTrani, at the talks whether the reactors would be built if North Korea abandoned the uranium-enrichment program.

He was told that North Korea needed to first agree to dismantle completely all its nuclear weapons programs.

Three Republican members of Congress last week wrote a letter to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice urging the administration to withdraw any offer of a reactor to North Korea.

The letter stated that the idea of resuming work on the light-water reactors “should be taken off the table immediately.” It was signed by California Rep. Christopher Cox, Illinois Rep. Henry J. Hyde and Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl.

The members of Congress wrote the letter after the disclosure in The Washington Times that discussions about the light-water reactors had been raised in the Beijing talks. In the letter, the congressmen said North Korea cannot be trusted to abide by its agreements.

The discussion of the reactors’ construction also was the first time since 2002 that North Korea acknowledged having a uranium-enrichment program.

North Korea withdrew from the Non-Proliferation Treaty in January 2003 and expelled international inspectors that were monitoring its nuclear sites in December 2002.

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