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U.S.: North Korean nuclear decision 'regrettable'

A satellite photo shows North Korea's suspected nuclear facility at Yongbyon.
A satellite photo shows North Korea's suspected nuclear facility at Yongbyon.

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1994 agreement
North Korea promised to give up its nuclear weapons program and allow inspections to verify that it did not have the material such weapons would require. The country has yet to allow the inspections.
N. Korea nuclear facts
  • North Korea launched a medium-range "test" missile over Japan in 1998.
  • The 1994 Agreed Framework was signed by North Korea with the Clinton administration.
  • In return, an international consortium is building new nuclear reactors in North Korea.
  • PYONGYANG, North Korea (CNN) -- North Korea has announced it will immediately reactivate previously shut down nuclear facilities, a decision the U.S. has described as "regrettable".

    The announcement comes two months after North Korea admitted it has a secret and active nuclear weapons program begun years after it promised to never again pursue such a course.

    One U.S. official told CNN Thursday that the decision to reactive the nuclear facilities is "regrettable and a step in the wrong direction," and a formal response from the Bush administration is being prepared.

    But this official said the U.S. message was being closely coordinated with South Korea and Japan and would track statements already issued by those key allies in Asia.

    Shortly after learning of the development Thursday, South Korean President Kim Dae-jung called an emergency national security council meeting in Seoul, according to a presidential spokeswoman.

    After the two-hour meeting, the ministers issued a statement expressing strong regret and serious concern about the possibility of heightened tensions on the Korean peninsula, according to a report from South Korea's Yonhap news agency.

    The statement urged Pyongyang to keep its obligation under the 1994 agreement, and called for a peaceful resolution to the situation through dialogue, according to Yonhap.

    The U.S. official said the United States would make clear "we wish this is a step they do not take" and that "the United States and its allies are no threat to North Korea or the North Korean people."

    The official also said, however, that the Bush administration would hold to its position that it will not respond to such statements by North Korea by offering negotiations. North Korea says it wants to resolve disputes over its nuclear program peacefully.

    Another source, a senior administration official, told CNN the United States has been expecting this for the past six weeks and does "not believe it is a crisis."

    But at the same time, this official noted, the situation could "get out of hand." (Full story)

    For that reason, the Bush administration has decided to deliver a restrained response, regretting the situation but reiterating the president's assurance the United States has "no intention to invade" North Korea and hopes for a "peaceful solution" to the standoff with Pyongyang.

    Meanwhile, the Kyodo news agency says North Korea has asked the International Atoomic Energy Agency to unseal and remove surveillance cameras from a nuclear plant.

    North Korea is known for its inflammatory rhetoric and for that reason, the administration official explained, Thursday's statement from Pyongyang is "measured, moderate" stuff. This is a "do I have your attention" kind of statement, he added.

    In a statement from North Korea's foreign ministry reported by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), the communist North will "immediately continue the operation and construction of nuclear facilities needed for electricity production."

    The statement indicated that one plant would be restarted and construction would resume on additional plants.

    The 1994 "agreed framework" with the United States, Japan and South Korea froze the production and use of North Korea's nuclear facilities, at least one of which was suspected of having the capability of producing weapons-grade plutonium.

    In exchange, North Korea received regular shipments of heavy fuel oil and was promised newer and safer nuclear reactors from the three countries.

    North Korea said the agreed framework is no longer valid now that it stopped receiving the 500,000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil, according to KCNA.

    North Korea said it is unfreezing the facilities because it needs the power generated by the nuclear plants since the fuel oil shipments were halted earlier this month.

    The foreign ministry statement did not say if Pyongyang would expel international monitors at its nuclear facilities, or if they would unseal plutonium in a cooling pond at one plant -- a step that would give them nuclear capability.

    The oil program was voided by the United States after it was divulged a few weeks ago that North Korea was engaged in a "highly enriched uranium program" -- violating international agreements and the agreed framework.

    U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, at a Thursday news conference in Qatar, said U.S. President George W. Bush has indicated he is working with Japan, South Korea and the European Union "to embark on a diplomatic initiative to work with North Korea to see if they wouldn't reverse their position of violating these three or four agreements."

    "There clearly is, has been, and I suspect will continue to be a diplomatic effort to have the North Koreans fulfill their international obligations."

    -- Senior White House Correspondent John King, State Department Correspondent Andrea Koppel, Senior Asia Correspondent Mike Chinoy and Seoul Bureau Chief Sohn Jie-Ae contributed to this report

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