September 4, 2008

U.S. Casts Doubt on Korean Claim


By Choe Sang-hun

The New York Times

SEOUL, South Korea

North Korea has begun reassembling its main nuclear complex, its only known source of bomb-making plutonium, the South Korean government said Wednesday, but the United States cast doubt on the seriousness of the North's efforts.

The North announced last week that it had stopped disabling its nuclear facilities and threatened to rebuild them, angry that it had not yet been removed from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism. The United States maintains the North has not fulfilled the requirements for being removed from the list.

While North Korea has not yet threatened to expel American and international nuclear experts from its facilities in Yongbyon, the country's action threatens to sabotage five years of on-and-off talks between North Korea and the five powers - the United States, China, Russia, Japan and South Korea - seeking to end its nuclear weapons programs.

The North has often delayed and backtracked on commitments as a negotiating tactic, but its latest move complicates President Bush's hopes of cementing major gains in North Korean nuclear disarmament before he leaves office in January.

On Wednesday, Japan's public broadcaster NHK and the Kyodo News agency reported that North Korea had started reassembling its nuclear facilities Tuesday. The reports cited unidentified officials related to the disarmament talks.

In a statement from South Korea's Foreign Ministry confirming that the North had begun rebuilding, a spokesman, Moon Tae-young, said: "Our government expresses serious concern because this goes against the movement toward denuclearizing North Korea and damages the six-nation process. We urge the North not to aggravate the situation any further."

Bush administration officials were measured in their response to the North Korean action, but said that they were dispatching Christopher Hill, assistant Secretary of State for East Asia, to Beijing for talks on the issue.

One Bush administration official noted that it would be extremely difficult to rebuild Yongbyon now that the cooling tower has been destroyed and the facility has been largely dismantled. The official characterized Pyongyang's action as dragging "some equipment out of a shed," but added that "it's hard" to rebuild the reactor.

Originally published by BY CHOE SANG-HUN.

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