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No 'immediate' risk of North Korea restarting reactor, says US official

Latest update : 2008-09-23

US envoy Christopher Hill said Monday that North Korea's stated moves to to restart its Yongbyon reactor and other nuclear facilities were a "tough line" in ongoing negotiations, but there was no "immediate" concern.

The US nuclear envoy said Monday that North Korea has taken a "tough line" toward six-party nuclear disarmament talks but that there was no immediate risk it would restart its reactor complex.
   
"Clearly we're seeing a tough line" from North Korea in the last month, envoy Christopher Hill told reporters when asked to comment on North Korea's moves to restart the Yongbyon plutonium-producing complex.
   
He said the negotiations involving North Korea, South Korea, China, Japan, Russia and the United States were experiencing a "rather rough and tumble moment" but he dismissed suggestions that they were unraveling.
   
The North Koreans were "staking out some very tough negotiating positions ... So yes, the negotiating process does continue," Hill said.
   
The hardline communist state, which tested an atomic weapon in October 2006, began disabling its aging reactor and other plants at Yongbyon last November under the six-country pact.
   
But it announced last month it had halted work in protest at Washington's refusal to drop it from the US blacklist of countries supporting terrorism, as promised under the deal.
   
Washington says the North must first accept strict outside verification of the nuclear inventory that Pyongyang handed over in June.
   
The reclusive Stalinist regime confirmed Friday that it was working to restart the plutonium-producing reactor.
   
Hill declined to comment on remarks by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which said North Korea asked it remove seals and surveillance equipment from the key nuclear facility.
   
But he said he did not believe North Korea was about to get the facilities going again, saying it could take months to reactivate the reprocessing plant and about a year for the whole reactor complex.
   
"I don't think there is any immediate potential for restarting the thing," he said.
   
Hill said Rice "had a wide-ranging good discussion" with the Korean foreign minister Yu Myung-Hwan on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly and that she will be meeting other participants here from the six-party process.
   
He said the players in the six-party process had to consult each other about the best way forward.
   
He noted that "the difficult time in the last month" in the negotiations "corresponds" to reports that North Korea's supreme leader Kim Jong-Il was in poor health, but did not know if it was anything more than a coincidence.
   
US officials have publicly declined to comment on South Korean intelligence leaks that Kim, 66, suffered a stroke. He has not been seen in public since August 14 and he missed a major military parade earlier this month.
   
Asked if US officials spoke to their North Korean counterparts about their leader's health, Hill replied: "We've been in touch with the North Koreans, I'm not prepared to go into details about that."
   
The 2007 aid-for-disarmament deal is deadlocked by a dispute over verification of the declaration of the North's nuclear program, which it delivered in June as part of the agreement.
   
US President George W. Bush expressed concern to his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao on Sunday over North Korea's plans, said Gordon Johndroe, a White House spokesman.
   
"The two presidents agreed that they would work hard to convince the North to continue down the path established in the six-party talks toward denuclearization," said Johndroe.

Date created : 2008-09-23

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