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 Wednesday, 25 December, 2002, 11:30 GMT
US to discuss nuclear crisis with Seoul
A South Korean man watches United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency director general, Mohamed ElBaradei, speak about North Korea's nuclear programme
South Koreans are concerned about the North's actions
The United States will send an envoy to South Korea next month to discuss the North Korean nuclear crisis, a spokesman for the South Korean president-elect said on Wednesday.

The US has not commented on the South Korean statement, but Washington earlier warned Pyongyang it would not give in to nuclear "blackmail" amid reports that the North Korea has started repairing a controversial nuclear reactor.

CRISIS CHRONOLOGY
Satellite photo of Yongbyon plant in 2000 by Space Imaging
22 Dec: N Korea removes monitoring devices at Yongbyon reactor
12 Dec: N Korea threatens to reactivate Yongbyon N-plant
27 November: N Korea accuses US of fabricating claim about nuclear programme
14 Nov: Fuel shipments to N Korea halted
16 Oct: N Korea acknowledges secret nuclear programme, US announces
The South Korean news agency Yonhap reported on Wednesday that North Koreans were "moving freely in and out of the unsealed nuclear reactor".

The United Nations says Pyongyang has dismantled most of the key monitoring equipment at the Yongbyon site, designed to ensure the plant is not used for covert nuclear weapons production.

Pyongyang's decision to reactivate the facility is being seen as retaliation for a suspension of oil aid shipments in November - imposed by the US after North Korea reportedly admitted pursuing a new nuclear weapons programme.

"We are not anxious to escalate this problem but we are not going to be blackmailed," said State Department spokesman Philip Reeker.

Old deal

North Korea insists it must restart the Yongbyon reactor to produce electricity because of the termination of the oil aid shipments.

An official of the International Atomic Energy Agency holds a surveillance camera
The cameras monitored compliance with the 1994 American-led deal
It said it would try to resolve differences with the US but warned of "merciless punishment" if Washington continued its "provocation".

Experts say nuclear bombs could be produced from materials at the site, which was deactivated in a deal to end a 1994 stand-off between Washington and Pyongyang.

Under the deal, North Korea was to receive two light water reactors and 500,000 metric tons of fuel oil each year while the reactors were being built in exchange for a freeze on activities at its own nuclear reactors.

In return, North Korea was required to allow inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to ensure it has not hidden away any weapons-grade plutonium from the original reactors.

Removed

The IAEA says most of its equipment at the Yongbyon site has gone, including seals, cameras and sensors.

We cannot know whether they are using this material for peaceful purposes or for nuclear weapons

Mark Gwozdecky
IAEA
"Essentially our eyes and ears have been removed from that very large complex," spokesman Mark Gwozdecky told the BBC. Two inspectors remain at Yongbyon but have only low-level contacts.

Mr Gwozdecky said the IAEA now considered the situation so dangerous that North Korea was top of its list of priorities, along with the search for nuclear programmes in Iraq.

North Korea has "a high level of nuclear capability", he said, and could extract plutonium which could then be used to make nuclear weapons.

"Without our safeguard measures in place, we cannot know whether they are using this material for peaceful purposes or for nuclear weapons," he said.

There are also concerns that work may be resumed at other dormant plants.

The five-megawatt Yongbyon reactor is far smaller than most commercial power plants, which are often around 3,000 megawatts, analysts say.


NORTH KOREA NUCLEAR PROGRAMME
Map showing North Korea's nuclear sites
Yongbyon: Five-megawatt experimental nuclear power reactor and a partially completed plutonium extraction facility. Activities at site frozen under 1994 Agreed Framework
Taechon: 200-MWt nuclear power reactor - construction halted under Agreed Framework
Pyongyang: Laboratory-scale "hot cells" that may have been used to extract small quantities of plutonium
Kumho: Two 1,000-MWt light water reactors being built under Agreed Framework

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's Andrew Webb
"Pyongyang says it needs the plant for generating electricity"
  Aiden Foster-Carter, expert on Korea
"They could have five more bombs in months"
  Dr Kim Sang Woo, South Korean Ambassador
"We must have some kind of dialogue"

Nuclear tensions

Inside North Korea

Divided peninsula

TALKING POINT
See also:

24 Dec 02 | Asia-Pacific
22 Dec 02 | Asia-Pacific
15 Dec 02 | Asia-Pacific
12 Dec 02 | Asia-Pacific
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