N. Korean statement open to conflicting interpretation after breakdown of talks

April 23, 1995|By New York Times News Service

TOKYO -- In what could be a threat to reactivate its nuclear program, North Korea said yesterday that it would take a "necessary decisive measure" after the breakdown of its negotiations with the United States.

But its vaguely worded statement did not say what the action would be and seemed to leave the door open for renewed negotiations with the United States, as the Clinton administration has proposed.

Talks in Berlin between the United States and North Korea over how to carry out the agreement in October to curtail North Korea's nuclear program broke down Friday. Under the agreement, North Korea would forgo its suspected nuclear weapons program in exchange for two modern nuclear power plants and other economic aid.

The United States has insisted that South Korea play a central role in providing the two new reactors since South Korea is expected to pay most of their estimated $4 billion cost. But North Korea refused to accept reactors supplied by South Korea, its archenemy, contending that its models are unsafe.

North Korea had threatened to begin refueling its 5-megawatt nuclear reactor if an agreement with the United States had not been reached by Friday.

The Clinton administration, which believes the reactor is designed to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons, has said it would press for sanctions on North Korea if refueling starts.

The North Korean reactor in Yongbyon, north of Pyongyang, the capital, is being watched by the International Atomic Energy Agency, so it should become clear if refueling starts.

Hoping to avoid a new crisis, the administration on Friday proposed new talks between the two nations in Geneva, using higher-level diplomats than in Berlin.

North Korea's statement, issued yesterday by the government-controlled Korea Central News Agency, was open to conflicting interpretations.

After mentioning the proposal for the Geneva talks, the statement, issued in English, said that "we will take a necessary decisive measure after getting a detailed report" of the Berlin negotiations and "sounding on the real intention of the U.S. side on the government level." That seemed to suggest that North Korea would consider Washington's proposal.

But the statement continued, "The measure which we will take in the future will be an entirely just and reasonable one for defending our sovereignty."

That wording and the Korean-language version of the statement convinced Naewoe Press, a South Korean government news agency that monitors North Korea, that the Communist government in North Korea was moving toward confrontation.

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