N. Korea's demand for new reactor undermines latest round of talks

U.S. negotiator says none of participants is prepared to fund light-water facility

September 15, 2005|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

BEIJING - North Korea demanded yesterday that the United States and other nations give it money to build a light-water nuclear reactor before it will end its nuclear weapons program, a condition that appeared to undermine prospects for a breakthrough in the talks.

The demand, made during the second day of six-nation nuclear talks, suggested that the North Korean regime was coming up with fresh obstacles to signing a broadly worded commitment to denuclearize, the main goal of the negotiations.

"I must say it was a meeting in which we did not make a lot of progress," said the top U.S. negotiator, Christopher Hill. "Neither the United States nor any other participant is prepared to fund a light-water reactor."

A light-water reactor would cost $2 billion to $3 billion and take about a decade to build, Hill said. While such reactors are less likely than North Korea's existing nuclear facilities to produce the raw materials for nuclear bombs, the United States has argued that they still pose proliferation risks.

"There are not too many other ways I know how to say no," Hill said after the United States had a one-on-one session with the North Koreans yesterday.

The Beijing talks resumed Tuesday after a five-week recess. The last round stretched over 13 days but failed to produce even a communique outlining objectives for future talks.

North Korea has said it is prepared to end its nuclear program in principle. But the conditions it sets for doing so have included, at various times, security guarantees, food and economic aid, diplomatic concessions and the withdrawal of U.S. forces from South Korea.

The main stumbling block now is Pyongyang's insistence that it has the right to retain a civilian nuclear program even if it gives up its nuclear weapons.

The issue has divided the talks' participants, with China, Russia and South Korea accepting North Korea's demand, while the United States and Japan have argued that the North cannot be trusted with any kind of nuclear technology, whether nominally peaceful or military.

U.S. negotiators recently signaled a softening of that line, saying they would be willing to set aside the issue of civilian uses of nuclear technology to clear the way for a general agreement on ending the North's weapons effort.

Speaking in New York on Tuesday, President Bush indicated some flexibility, saying, "It's a right of a government to want to have a civilian nuclear program, but there ought to be guidelines in which they be allowed to have that civilian nuclear program."

But Bush was referring to Iran, another budding nuclear weapons state, and his aides later denied that he intended to change the U.S. position in the Beijing talks.

U.S. officials drew a sharp line at building new reactors for North Korea.

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