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Terrorism & Security

North Korea threatens to renew nuclear program

Washington wants to verify that disarmament is underway, but Pyongyang says that further inspections would undermine its sovereignty.

By Liam Stack / August 27, 2008

North Korea threatened Tuesday to renew its nuclear weapons program. Pyongyang says that the United States has reneged on its promise to remove North Korea from the state sponsors of terrorism list, while Washington responded that it wants independent verification of the country's nuclear disarmament. North Korea also announced this week that it "suspended disabling" its nuclear facilities on Aug. 14.

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The announcement escalates tensions and threatens to throw the six-party disarmament talks with North Korea and its neighbors into disarray. It comes just two months after the government demolished the cooling tower at its Yongbyon nuclear facility, hidden in a mountain range 60 miles north of the capital, before a crowd of international journalists.

That move was meant to dramatically demonstrate Pyongyang's commitment to the talks, which has now been called into question.

The June demolition of the cooling tower was accompanied by the release of details about North Korea's plutonium program, and the US rewarded North Korea for that with promises to remove the country from the state sponsors of terrorism list and drop some trade sanctions, reports The Washington Post.

Since then, the US has been slow to follow through. It says it will not drop North Korea from the list until it allows outside experts into its facilities to catalogue the scope of its nuclear activities and verify the disarmament progress.

Pyongyang has reacted to that demand with rage and says that extra inspections would be a violation of its sovereignty, reports The Guardian. When an Aug. 11 deadline for altering the list passed, Pyongyang put its foot down.

In a statement carried by the Korea Central News Agency, the ministry said the US was insisting on extra inspections that would infringe upon its sovereignty.
"The US is gravely mistaken if it thinks it can make a house search in the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] as it pleases just as it did in Iraq," said the statement. "We have decided to immediately suspend disabling our nuclear facilities."

The Bush administration reacted with disappointment on Wednesday. But a number of government officials reaffirmed US commitment to keeping North Korea on the list until its progress in dismantling the nuclear site could be independently verified, reports Agence France-Presse.

"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," said White House spokesman Tony Fratto.
The State Department said Pyongyang's decision to stop disabling its key Yongbyon nuclear complex was of "great concern" and "a step backward" in six-country diplomatic efforts aimed at denuclearizing the Korean peninsula.
"It certainly is in violation of its commitments to the six-party framework, certainly in violation of the principle of action-for-action," department spokesman Robert Wood told reporters.

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