A senior North Korean official Thursday urged the Bush administration to supply Pyongyang with light-water nuclear reactors to generate power "as soon as possible," but stopped short of saying delivery of a reactor was a precondition for dismantling North Korea's atomic weapons program.
North Korean vice foreign minister Choe Su Hon said in an address to the U.N. General Assembly and in a briefing with reporters that his government will "simultaneously" pursue a peaceful nuclear power program and permit U.N. inspections of its weapons program.
The remarks contrasted with a statement released on Tuesday by Pyongyang that had caused officials to worry that North Korea was trying to back away from an agreement reached Monday in Beijing to terminate its weapons program and open its doors to inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency. A day after the agreement was struck in Beijing, North Korea, known as Democratic People's Republic of Korea, issued a statement saying the "U.S. should not even dream of the DPRK's dismantlement of its nuclear deterrent before providing light water reactors."
Choe said Thursday that North Korea has "committed itself to dismantling the existing nuclear weapons program, returning to the [nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty] and allowing inspections of the IAEA."
He said that he would welcome a visit to Pyongyang by Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, the top U.S. negotiator in six-party nuclear disarmament talks that secured North Korea's pledge to abandon its nuclear weapons. "If Christopher Hill is willing to visit my country with an intention of resolving the nuclear issue, then we would always welcome him."
Choe also said he had instructed U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan on Wednesday to begin shutting down a U.N. humanitarian operation that is responsible for feeding more than 6 million of North Korea's 23.5 million people.
The humanitarian crisis has abated, Choe said, and North Korea wants to ease its dependence on the food aid, but he said he still wanted U.N. relief agencies to provide long-term development assistance. "Our government is prepared to provide the food to all our people," he said.
Gerald Bourke, a spokesman for the World Food Program, said the food crisis in North Korea has led to high levels of malnutrition, with 37 percent of young children chronically malnourished. But he said North Korea has received a massive pledge of food assistance from South Korea that would fill the gap.
Still, Jan Egeland, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator, said North Korea's decision "is very worrying. We are today providing food and medicine and undertaking other humanitarian programs for millions in North Korea."