Seoul, Dec. 12 (Reuters): North Korea said today it was immediately reactivating a nuclear power plant at the centre of a suspected 1990s weapons programme, raising the stakes in a stand-off at the world’s last Cold War flashpoint.
North Korea’s decision to restart the reactor mothballed in 1994 after an international crisis over alleged production of weapons-grade plutonium there escalates a two-month-long showdown with the US over a second nuclear programme being pursued by the isolated and impoverished Communist state.
Analysts said Pyongyang’s latest move — which it said it had been forced to take after a US-led decision to suspend oil aid to the country — appeared to be a last-ditch attempt to force arch-enemy Washington to the negotiating table.
The announcement came exactly a week before South Korea’s presidential election, a contest which will turn in part on the question of whether to embrace or sanction North Korea.
The reactor at Yongbyon, north of Pyongyang, was frozen in 1994 after a year-long crisis ended with the Agreed Framework pact between the US and North Korea. The CIA director estimated North Korea had produced one or two nuclear weapons.
Under the pact, Pyongyang promised to scrap plans to develop such weapons in return for provision of light water nuclear reactors and fuel oil supplies.
In October this year, Washington said Pyongyang had admitted embarking on a new secret programme, this time to enrich uranium for weapons, in violation of the Agreed Framework. Following that admission, Washington and its allies, including South Korea and Japan, decided to suspend fuel oil shipments to North Korea from December — just as winter brought sub-zero temperatures to the destitute northeast Asian country.
After weeks demanding that Washington sign a non-aggression treaty to defuse the row, North Korea’s foreign ministry raised the stakes today.
It said in a statement: “The prevailing situation compelled the DPRK government to lift its measure for nuclear freeze taken on the premise that 500,000 tonnes of heavy oil would be annually supplied to the DPRK under the DPRK-US Agreed Framework and immediately resume the operation and construction of its nuclear facilities to generate electricity.
“Whether the DPRK refreezes its nuclear facilities or not hinges upon the US,” said the statement, carried by the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).