North Korea Raises Stakes in Nuclear Standoff, Demands Reactors for Dismantling Nuclear Program
UNITED NATIONS North Korea's deputy foreign minister insisted that his country be given light-water nuclear reactors at the same time that it dismantles its nuclear program to demonstrate "good faith," raising the stakes in the nuclear standoff with the United States.
U.S. officials had downplayed Pyongyang's insistence on reactors soon after an agreement was announced Monday at six-party nuclear talks in Beijing in which North Korea pledged to drop its nuclear weapons development and rejoin international arms treaties before the subject of light-water reactors is discussed.
But Deputy Foreign Minister Choe Su Hon's repeated demand Thursday for "simultaneous action" on disarmament and the provision of reactors made clear how important the issue is to North Korea.
"What is important here is that all the parties concerned move ... simultaneously," Choe replied when asked about the agreement. "If one side is imposing to move first while the other side is waiting -- that is illogical."
North Korea made clear at the Beijing talks that "the practical basis" for removing distrust between Pyongyang and Washington was for the United States to provide light water reactors to North Korea, he told a small group of reporters after addressing the U.N. General Assembly.
In his speech to the assembly's ministerial meeting, Choe said, "What is most essential at this stage is for the United States to provide light-water reactors to the DPRK as soon as possible as evidence proving the former's substantial recognition of the latter's right to peaceful nuclear activities." He used the acronym for the North's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
Negotiators at the six-party talks agreed to meet again in November, where they are expected to move to concrete discussions on implementing the broad principles outlined in Monday's agreement.
Choe told reporters he expects the issue of the light-water reactors and compensation to North Korea for dismantling its nuclear reactor to be discussed at that time.
"We think all the issues should be resolved on the basis of the joint statement adopted recently, on the basis of simultaneous action," he said. "What is important is to take measures for implementing the provisions of the joint statement phrase by phrase on the basis of simultaneous actions in good faith."
Choe reiterated in his speech that North Korea's ultimate goal is the full denuclearization of the Korean peninsula "at any cost," but he said that can happen only after relations are normalized with the United States.
While he pointedly condemned the United States, Choe was far more subdued in his criticism than previous statements out of North Korea.
Asked whether North Korea saw any change in the approach of President George W. Bush's administration, Choe noted that at the six-party talks the United States pledged to recognize the sovereignty of North Korea and to coexistence with the North.
"This is different from what the United States has been saying toward my country, labeling it as an `axis of evil,' and their target of pre-emptive nuclear strikes," he said.
Asked what the North thought of Bush personally, he said, "it is true that in the past years, the United States has been slandering very harshly DPRK but recently we see less."
Choe confirmed that North Korea informed the United Nations that it wants all humanitarian assistance from the United Nations and other international organizations terminated by the end of the year, partly because of U.S. interference.
He said the humanitarian situation has improved "to a great extent," grain production is expected to increase, and the government can feed the people. But he said another reason for the termination is the attempt by 13 countries, especially the United States, "to politicize the humanitarian assistance" by linking it to human rights in North Korea.
Choe said this constitutes interference in the internal affairs of the country.
The nation of 23 million has received emergency food from the WFP and other international groups since natural disasters and mismanagement caused its economy to collapse in the mid-1990s.
During a meeting Wednesday, Choe said he thanked Secretary-General Kofi Annan for the humanitarian help and told him North Korea now wants development assistance. He said Annan said he would try to provide it.
Source: Associated Press