Korean nukes back in focus

Updated: 2013-11-29 04:37

By CHEN WEIHUA in Washington (China Daily USA)

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As Iran invited UN inspectors to visit its Arak heavy-water production facility on Dec 8 following Sunday's landmark deal on restricting its nuclear activities in exchange for eased economic sanctions, there is little indication that a similar situation will develop any time soon with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

On Thursday, Reuters reported that activity has been observed at a DPRK nuclear site consistent with an effort to restart a reactor, quoting Yukiya Amano, chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

"Activities have been observed at the site that are consistent with an effort to restart the 5MW(e) reactor," Amano told a meeting of the IAEA's 35-nation board.

"However, as the agency has no access to the site, it is not possible for us to conclusively determine whether the reactor has been restarted," he said.

The latest development followed DPRK's criticism of the US for blocking denuclearization talks with "absurd conditions" that would only prompt Pyongyang to bolster its nuclear deterrent capacity, the Agence France-Presse reported on Wednesday.

A DPRK foreign ministry spokesman said in a statement broadcast by the official Korean Central News Agency that Pyongyang's search for a "negotiated settlement" on its nuclear program was being stymied by a "hostile" US policy.

The statement was in response to Monday's comments by Glyn Davies, the US special representative for North Korea policy, who hinted at more sanctions against DPRK in the wake of the interim deal on Iran's nuclear program.

DPRK spokesman said Davies' remarks reflected US opposition to Beijing and Pyongyang's call for a resumption of the Six-Party Talks on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

The talks, which have been suspended since 2008, involve the DPRK, the Republic of Korea, the US, China, Japan and Russia.

Davies was on a weeklong tour in Northeast Asia where he also met Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Nov 21. Wang stressed the adherence to the settlement of the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue through dialogue and consultations, and by peaceful means.

He also called on all parties to move towards the same goal, and resume the Six-Party Talks as early as possible, according to a Chinese Foreign Ministry statement.

The DPRK spokesman accused the US of "deliberately creating obstacles in the way of resuming the talks under absurd preconditions will always be blamed". He said the DPRK will be compelled to steadily bolster deterrence as long as the US becomes all the more undisguised in pursuing hostile moves, according to the spokesman.

Davies said in Tokyo on Monday that Pyongyang's attempts to restart dialogue while keeping its nuclear program running were unacceptable.

"If they do not act to demonstrate that they understand they must fulfill their obligations and give up their nuclear weapons, then there is more pressure that will be brought to bear on them," he said.

After months of escalating tensions since the DPRK conducted its third nuclear test in February, Pyongyang has expressed a willingness to resume the Six-Party Talks but Washington insisted that any talks will only start with DPRK's early commitment to stop its nuclear program. China has earlier called for more flexibility on the US side to get the talks going.

"We commend China for its tireless efforts to try to move forward on this discussion of what the appropriate threshold for Six-Party Talks would look like," Davies said in Tokyo on Monday.

The recent situation has also been complicated by DPRK's Oct 26 detention of Merrill Newman, a US veteran of the Korean War who had been visiting there as a tourist.

Charles Armstrong, a history professor at Columbia University and an expert on the DPRK, said with progress on Syria's chemical weapons and Iranian nuclear program, the Obama administration may be able to focus on negotiations with DPRK.

"The detaining of the US veteran by the North Koreans may even serve as an opportunity to re-open dialogue between the DPRK and the US, although the circumstances surrounding Mr. Newman's detention are still very unclear," he said.

AFP and Reuters contributed to the reporting.