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North Korea Demands Reactor in Exchange for Nuke Program

North Korea Demands Reactor
In Exchange for Nuke Program

By Joseph Kahn


North Korea on Thursday refused to drop a new demand that the outside world build it a nuclear reactor before it dismantles its nuclear weapons, leaving six-nation negotiations here on the verge of collapse.

The United States and North Korea identified its demand for a light-water nuclear reactor as the main sticking point in the talks, which have continued fitfully over two years and failed to produce even a joint statement of principles to guide future negotiations.

While this round of talks will continue for at least another day, Christopher Hill, the chief American negotiator, made clear on Thursday that the gap had widened over three days of discussions and that the prospects for a breakthrough were slim.

“The only thing North Korea is interested in discussing is a light-water reactor,” Hill said. “No country is going to provide North Korea with a light-water reactor. So we have reached a bit of a standoff.”

The stalemate confronts the Bush administration with an unhappy choice — continue indefinitely with negotiations that have produced no result, or seek to build a consensus to impose international penalties on North Korea against the wishes of most countries in the region.

One goal for the United States in these talks, analysts say, is to demonstrate enough sincerity and flexibility to convince Asian nations, especially China and South Korea, that fault for what has happened lies with North Korea and that imposing penalties is now the only viable option.

North Korea is seen as having the opposite objective. It is eager to show that it wants to dismantle its nuclear weapons program and would certainly do so but for the unreasonable demands of the United States, which it accuses of having a “hostile policy” aimed at overthrowing its Stalinist government.

Those competing agendas were on full display on Thursday. The United States said that the other four regional powers participating in the talks, South Korea, Russia, Japan, and the host, China, agreed that North Korea’s condition that it receive a reactor before ending its weapons program was impossible to meet.

North Korea, in contrast, said that all the other parties had agreed that it was justified in requesting a new light-water reactor and that only the United States had refused to discuss the matter.