By Blaine Harden
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
TOKYO, Aug. 26 -- Angry that the United States has not removed it from a list of states that sponsor terrorism, North Korea said Tuesday that it has stopped disabling its nuclear reactor at Yongbyon and will consider rebuilding it.
The announcement comes two months after the communist North released long-awaited details of its plutonium program and dynamited the cooling tower at the reactor, moves that prompted the Bush administration to say it would drop North Korea from the terrorism list and lift some trade sanctions.
Since then, though, the United States has declined to take North Korea off the list, citing lack of progress in the North's promise to allow outside experts to verify the scope of its nuclear program.
North Korea halted work on disabling the Yongbyon plant on Aug. 14, according to a statement from the country's Foreign Ministry. Under U.S. law, the Bush administration could have removed North Korea from the terrorism list on Aug. 11.
"North Korea decided to immediately suspend the disablement," said the statement, which was carried by the country's official Korean Central News Agency. It added that the North "will consider soon a step to restore the nuclear facilities in Yongbyon to their original state."
That would take some time. U.S. officials said earlier this summer that the plant had been substantially dismantled under the supervision of outside nuclear technicians and that it would take at least a year to get it running again.
White House spokesman Tony Fratto said the United States "will not take North Korea off the state-sponsor-of-terrorism list until we have a protocol in place to verify the dismantling and accounting for Korea's nuclear program."
"We've been very clear with North Korea that there will be action for action," he said.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in the West Bank city of Ramallah to try to advance the Middle East peace process, played down North Korea's announcement. "We actually are in discussions with the North Koreans," Rice said, according to the Reuters news agency. "And I think we'll just see where we come out in a few weeks."
North Korea, which stunned the world in 2006 by exploding a small nuclear device, made a deal last October with the United States to abandon its nuclear program. Pyongyang agreed to start by disabling the Yongbyon plant and declaring the extent of its nuclear program in return for aid and removal from the terrorism list.
That deal, though, has had a number of major hiccups, including a six-month delay in the North's release of the report on its nuclear program. U.S. negotiators, despite criticism from some conservatives in Washington, found ways to keep it from collapsing.
The negotiators did not require the North to make a detailed public accounting of its suspected uranium-enrichment program or suspected sales of nuclear technology to foreign countries, including Syria. Nor did the United States require the North to specify how many nuclear weapons it has made.
But in June, when President Bush agreed to take North Korea off the list, he said that "the United States has no illusions about the regime in Pyongyang" and would insist on verification that its nuclear program had been shut down.
That insistence on a "protocol of verification" before the impoverished North can get off the terrorism list -- and develop relationships with the International Monetary Fund and other lending agencies -- apparently infuriated the leadership in Pyongyang.
"The United States is gravely mistaken if it thinks it can make a house search in North Korea as it pleases just as it did in Iraq," the Foreign Ministry statement said. "North Korea does not care whether it continues remaining on the list of those countries which are disobedient to the United States.' "
Analysts in South Korea said Tuesday's angry statement by the North fits a familiar pattern of negotiation by fist-shaking.
"This is quite an expected reaction from North Korea, given that not much has happened since they symbolically exploded the cooling tower," said Koh Yu-whan, a professor of political science at Dongguk University in Seoul. "From the North Korean perspective, they thrive on crisis to make progress in their favor."
Special correspondent Stella Kim in Seoul and staff writer Dan Eggen in Washington contributed to this report.