Washington, Dec. 21 (Reuters): There is no sign that North Korea has followed through on a threat to restart a nuclear reactor at the heart of a suspected 1990s weapons programme, a senior US official has said.
One week ago, Pyongyang had raised the stakes in a standoff at the world’s last Cold War flashpoint by announcing plans to immediately reactivate the Yongbyon reactor, which was closed down in a 1994 agreement with the US.
However, the US official said: “Even as of today, there’s no sign of any change on the ground in North Korea. Nothing, including no move to expel the International Atomic Energy Agency monitors” at the Yongbyon nuclear site.
On Thursday, another senior US official said the North Koreans had not yet disconnected monitoring equipment, cameras and seals at the site. North Korea had asked the IAEA to unseal the plant and remove surveillance cameras.
The official noted the North Koreans were engaged in a dialogue with the IAEA, which monitors the Yongbyon facility, and said these exchanges have been helpful. But he took Pyongyang’s December 12 statement on restarting the reactor seriously and “presumably at some stage they may choose to do this”.
Some officials believe Pyongyang made its threat largely in an attempt to influence the December 19 election in South Korea in which liberal ruling party candidate Roh Moo-hyun beat conservative Lee Hoi-chang. The US favours a tougher line on communist North Korea than Roh, who has said he would never “kowtow” to Washington.
“I think (the North) was trying to influence the South Korea election and now that they got Roh elected they are going to stop,” one official said.