From: Reuters
Published February 20, 2008 12:55 AM

North Korea denies uranium program: U.S. envoy says

SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea has again denied running a clandestine program to enrich uranium for weapons, long suspected by the United States, a top U.S. nuclear envoy said on Wednesday.

U.S. envoy Christopher Hill was speaking after talks in Beijing on Tuesday, when he pressed North Korean nuclear envoy Kim Kye-gwan to meet his country's side of an international agreement to own up to all its nuclear weapons programs.

"They continue to take what they call a principled position that they have not engaged in any uranium enrichment activity," Hill told reporters in Seoul.

Pyongyang has already missed an end-2007 deadline to detail all its efforts to create an atomic arsenal under an agreement that regional powers hope will eventually lead the communist state to completely end its nuclear weapons ambitions in return for massive aid and an end to its international pariah status.

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"We have a situation where they have purchased some equipment and have been trying to show to us that this equipment is not being used for uranium enrichment," Hill said.

"We cannot pretend that activities don't exist when we know that the activities have existed."

The United States in 2002 first accused the North of running a covert nuclear program by enriching uranium, a charge that triggered the demise of a 1994 deal to disarm the North's nuclear arms program.

Plutonium and enriched uranium can both be used to fuel nuclear weapons. North Korea tested a plutonium-based nuclear weapon in October 2006, alarming Washington and Asian neighbors.

Hill described the nuclear talks among the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States as being in a rough patch but said that they had not reached a dead end.

And he quoted Kim as saying North Korea was committed to making progress in the nuclear deal.

"Mr. Kim Kye-gwan was very careful not to describe this as any kind of stalemate," he said before leaving for Tokyo later on Wednesday.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Jonathan Thatcher and Alex Richardson)

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