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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 18 (August 28, 2008)

All Headlines 11:03 August 28, 2008

*** TOPIC OF THE WEEK (Part 2)

N. Korea Halts Disabling Nuclear Plant, Casting Doubt Over Six-party Future

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- International efforts to end North Korea's nuclear weapons program faced another critical turning point this week as the communist country announced it would suspend efforts to disable its nuclear facilities and consider putting its Yongbyon reactor back into action.

The North's announcement on Aug. 26 was seen as a response to Washington's delay in removing it from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism. The North's position is seen as a clear rejection of a U.S. plan to verify the communist country's declaration of its nuclear activities, which was reportedly proposed to Pyongyang during last week's bilateral talks in New York.

"The DPRK (North Korea) decided to immediately suspend the disablement of its nuclear facilities that had been underway according to the Oct. 3 agreement," the North's Foreign Ministry spokesman said in a statement carried by the country's official Korean Central News Agency. "This step took effect on Aug. 14, and the parties concerned have already been notified of this."

The North will "consider soon a step to restore nuclear facilities in Yongbyon to their original state, as strongly requested by its relevant institutions," the spokesman warned, apparently referring to the North's hard-line military authorities.

South Korea's Foreign Ministry expressed concern about the North's measures and called on the communist country to resume the disablement process. "The measure is regrettable as it came at a time when the six parties have to make concerted efforts to complete phase two of the denuclearization process," the ministry's spokesman, Moon Tae-young, told reporters. He said Seoul "will work closely with relevant countries to have North Korea resume the disablement work as early as possible."

Responding to the North's announcement, the United States reiterated calls for North Korea to agree to a verification regime for its nuclear programs before it is removed from a U.S. terrorism blacklist. "What we require is a verification package in order for us to go forward on delisting," Robert Wood, the State Department's deputy spokesman, told reporters. "That remains the goal of the other parties (of the six-party talks) -- to make sure we have a verification package in place."

Pyongyang has been disabling its Yongbyon reactor and submitted a list of its nuclear programs under a six-party deal signed last year. The deal promised political and economic rewards, including removal from the terrorism blacklist, in return for the North's actions.

After the North submitted its long-awaited list on June 26, U.S. President George W. Bush gave Congress a 45-day period to review his decision to take the North off the U.S. list of countries supporting terrorism. Aug. 11 was the earliest possible date that Washington could remove the North from the list under a U.S. law.

But Washington said last week it will not delist the North until Pyongyang agrees to set up an internationally recognizable mechanism to verify its declaration. The U.S. has demanded that inspectors be given the right to visit all suspected nuclear facilities without prior notice.

"This was an outright violation of the agreement," the North's spokesman said. "No agreements reached among the six parties or between the DPRK and the U.S. contain an article that stipulates the verification of the nuclear declaration of the DPRK as a condition of listing it as a 'state sponsor of terrorism,'" the spokesman said.

The statement signaled the North's rejection of the inspection demand. "The U.S. is gravely mistaken if it thinks it can make a house search in the DPRK as it pleases, just as it did in Iraq," the North said, calling the demand "brigandish."

The North then reiterated its long-held demand for a simultaneous nuclear inspection both in the South and the North, claiming that all six parties of the talks must receive inspection "in the final phase of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula." The remaining four parties are South Korea, China, Japan and Russia.

The North said it does not care whether it continues to remain on "the list of countries which are disobedient to the U.S."

Washington and Pyongyang officials had "substantive" talks on how to verify the nuclear declaration during the Friday talks in New York, U.S. officials said, refusing to elaborate.

Diplomatic sources in Seoul said the U.S. proposed last week a detailed verification protocol and asked for an early reply from the North in the talks.

The statement came shortly after Chinese President Hu Jintao left South Korea after summit talks with President Lee Myung-bak that included discussions on the North Korean nuclear dispute.

Experts said the North's statement appears to be aimed at pressing Washington harder to take the communist state off the terrorism list.

The confrontational move came as the U.S. presidential campaign has begun to intensify. Seoul government officials explain that the North appears to be trying to gain an upper hand in the negotiations concerning the verification mechanism for Pyongyang's nuclear disablement.

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