Page last updated at 17:28 GMT, Wednesday, 3 September 2008 18:28 UK

N Korea 'rebuilds nuclear plant'

A file photo from February 2008 of a US inspector studying disabled nuclear equipment at Yongbyon plant in North Korea
A sticking point in talks has been how to verify North Korea's disarmament

North Korea has begun reassembling a nuclear plant, reversing steps taken under an international deal to end its nuclear programme, South Korea says.

Seoul said international envoys were considering their response. The US has expressed scepticism over the claims, but dispatched its negotiator to China.

Pyongyang warned last month that it had stopped disabling the Yongbyon plant.

It accused the US of breaking an agreement to remove it from a list of states that sponsor terrorism.

The removal from the list was part of the package promised to North Korea but it has not yet been carried out.

The US state department spokesman Sean McCormack said it appeared the North had begun to move previously stored equipment at its Yongbyon plant.

But he added: "To my knowledge, based on what we know from the folks on the ground, you don't have an effort to reconstruct, reintegrate this equipment back into the Yongbyon facility."

He said Christopher Hill, the lead US negotiator in six-nation nuclear talks, would leave for Beijing on Thursday.

Verifying the claims

Although the disabling process is well advanced, it is reversible. Experts believe the North's facilities could be back up and running within a year.

Former UN weapons inspector David Albright says the reactor at Yongbyon is mostly intact.

Foreign camera crews prepare to film the demolition of the cooling tower at the Yongbyon nuclear plant in North Korea on 27 June

But he said the regime would need to manufacture hundreds - possibly thousands - of fuel rods and rebuild a cooling tower that was blown up in June to get it fully operational.

He believes the North is unlikely to rebuild the plant, but is instead using the threat as a bargaining chip to gain more concessions from the six-party talks, which involve North and South Korea, the US, China, Russia and Japan.

In June, North Korea finally submitted a long-delayed account of its nuclear facilities - and was expecting to be removed from the US list almost immediately in return.

But the US said that would not be possible until North Korea agreed to inspections aimed at verifying the details that it had disclosed.

That move has been delayed amid wrangling among the six parties over exactly how these details can be verified.

The North began disabling the Yongbyon plant in November but stopped in late August in protest at the delay.

Seoul confirmed reports earlier on Wednesday from Japan's public broadcaster NHK and Kyodo news agency that the North had started reassembling the facilities.

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