N. Korea Holds to Its Demands at Nuclear Talks

By Edward Cody
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, September 15, 2005

BEIJING, Sept. 14 -- Just-resumed negotiations on North Korean nuclear disarmament swiftly bogged down Wednesday in the same standoff that led to their suspension five weeks ago, undermining any hopes that the talks could move forward more easily after the recess.

In a bilateral meeting with U.S. diplomats, North Korea drove home its insistence on a light-water nuclear reactor for producing electricity as part of any bargain on dismantling its nuclear weapons program, according to the chief U.S. negotiator, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill. While briefing reporters afterward, Hill said he responded clearly that the United States would not agree.

"It's very clear they wanted to make this light-water reactor day," he said. "I hope they don't want to make it light-water reactor week. I don't know how many ways I can say no."

North Korean demands for a light-water reactor to produce electricity were the main sticking point when the fourth round of disarmament talks broke up here Aug. 7. "In certain respects, we have picked up where we left off," Hill said.

The Bush administration has refused to consider such a reactor for North Korea, saying the Pyongyang government cannot be trusted because in the 1990s it converted a research reactor into a source of weapons-grade plutonium for nuclear weapons. South Korea has proposed supplying electricity to North Korea as part of the nuclear disarmament agreement, which Hill suggested was a more practical way to meet North Korea's energy needs if that is the issue.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company