North Korea said Tuesday that it had stopped disabling its main nuclear complex, and threatened to restore facilities there that the North has used to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons unless the United States removed it from a terrorist list.
For months, U.S. experts and North Korean engineers have been disabling key facilities at the complex at Yongbyon, north of Pyongyang, in a move that temporarily shut down the North’s only known source of plutonium.
If North Korea rebuilds the facilities in defiance of the United States and a coalition of major powers that have sought to disarm North Korea, it would nullify a major foreign policy achievement of the Bush administration.
North Korea often issues strident warnings as a negotiating tactic, but nonetheless the latest declaration dimmed the Bush administration’s hopes of achieving a breakthrough in the North’s nuclear disarmament before President Bush leaves office in January.
The State Department described the announcement as a “step backward.”
“This certainly is in violation of their commitments to the six-party framework,” a State Department spokesman, Robert Wood, told reporters, according to Reuters.
North Korea accused Washington of not keeping its promise to take the North off a terrorism blacklist. The United States wants North Korea to agree to a comprehensive method of checking whether it withheld information in a report on its past nuclear activities before it removes North Korea from the blacklist.
A White House spokesman, Tony Fratto, said North Korea had informed Washington that it halted its work at the plant temporarily. “We’ve informed North Korea that we will take action to rescind its designation when it fulfills its commitment regarding verification,” he said.
The state-run news agency KCNA quoted a North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying: “We have decided to immediately suspend disabling our nuclear facilities. This measure has been effective on Aug. 14 and related parties have been notified of it.”
Work started at Yongbyon late last year to disable a nuclear reactor, along with a factory that produces fuel for the reactor and a laboratory that can extract plutonium from spent fuel rods unloaded from the reactor. North Korea demolished the reactor’s cooling tower in June.
It would take at least a year to restart the disabled facilities, experts said.
Disabling the complex does not meet Washington’s ultimate goal of dismantling it. The United States wants full access by inspectors to all suspected nuclear sites in the secretive communist country to ensure that there are no hidden nuclear assets.
The North bristled at this demand. “The U.S. is gravely mistaken if it thinks it can make a house search in our country as it pleases, just as it did in Iraq,” the North Korean spokesman said.
He said North Korea was still technically at war with the United States because the 1950-53 Korean War had ended only in a cease-fire.