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Pyongyang says it never agreed to nuclear sampling

by Staff Writers
Seoul (AFP) Nov 12, 2008
North Korea said Wednesday it had never agreed to let inspectors take samples from atomic plants as part of international attempts to check whether it is telling the truth about its nuclear activities.

A foreign ministry spokesman, giving details for the first time of a verification agreement with the United States, made it clear that outside inspectors would not have full powers to check the North's nuclear declaration made in June.

The spokesman said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency that international inspection standards such as sampling were not part of the October agreement which rescued a six-nation disarmament pact.

"Insisting on the so-called international standards and trying to demand more than what has been agreed upon between the DPRK (North Korea) will be considered as a house search and breach of sovereignty," the statement said.

The North also said it had slowed down work to disable its plutonium-producing complex at Yongbyon in protest at delays by its negotiating partners in delivering promised energy aid.

The communist state, which tested an atomic weapon in October 2006, said it had reduced by half the rate at which it removes spent fuel rods from the reactor.

"In case the economic compensation continues to be delayed, the tempo of the disablement will be decreased accordingly, making it hard to predict the prospect of the six-party talks," the statement said.

The forum, grouping the two Koreas, the United States, Japan, China and Russia, has been meeting since 2003. Under a deal last year the North agreed to scrap its nuclear programmes in return for energy aid, diplomatic benefits and security guarantees.

The talks hit a major snag this autumn over ways to verify the nuclear declaration. Washington initially pressed for strict inspections to cover not only the admitted plutonium operation but also a suspected enriched uranium project and any proliferation activities.

The North in protest began work to restart its Yongbyon complex which it had shut last year. Washington eventually reached a deal in October with Pyongyang on verification and dropped it from a terrorism blacklist.

The US State Department said at the time the North had agreed to verification of all nuclear facilities, including its alleged uranium-based programme and suspected proliferation.

US officials said the deal allows for outside experts to visit both declared and undeclared sites, take and remove samples and equipment for analysis, view documents and interview staff.

However, visits to sites not included in the North's declaration delivered in June would require "mutual consent."

The North's statement Wednesday said verification would be confined to Yongbyon and would involve only field visits, confirmation of documents and interviews with technicians.

It said verification would be conducted only after all the promised energy aid -- one million tonnes of fuel oil or equivalent assistance -- had been delivered.

"This was utmost magnanimity the DPRK (North Korea) could show under the present situation where the deep-rooted mistrust and hostile relations exist between the DPRK and the US," it said.

The next round of six-party talks is due to agree details of verification and the delivery of energy aid but no date has yet been announced by talks host China.

earlier related report
NKorea says it will shut border with SKorea
North Korea said Wednesday it would close its border with South Korea from next month in protest at what it called Seoul's confrontational stance, a move that could cripple a joint industrial estate.

The communist state announced that a measure "to strictly restrict and cut off all the overland passages" would take effect from December 1, the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported.

A total closure of the heavily fortified border would effectively shut down the Seoul-funded Kaesong industrial complex built just north of the frontier as a symbol of reconciliation.

It would also halt a popular tourist trip to Kaesong city.

South Korea's unification ministry expressed regret and urged the North to restart stalled dialogue. Spokesman Kim Ho-Nyoun said he did not believe the North intends a complete closure.

Wednesday's announcement follows months of icy relations, including threats by the North to expel South Koreans from Kaesong in protest at the spreading of cross-border propaganda leaflets by Seoul activists.

KCNA said the move was in response to Seoul's failure to honour agreements reached at summits between the North and the South in 2000 and 2007. It said the border restrictions were the "first step" in response.

Seoul's confrontational moves were "going beyond the danger level," it added.

"The South Korean puppet authorities should never forget that the present inter-Korean relations are at the crucial crossroads of existence and total severance."

The head of the North's delegation to military talks with the South sent a notice of the ban to Seoul's armed forces on Wednesday.

Cross-border relations soured after conservative South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak took office in February. He promised to take a firmer line with the North after a decade-long "sunshine" engagement policy.

Lee said he would review summit agreements between the North and his liberal predecessors, which envisage projects costing tens of billions of dollars.

The North is also angry with South Korean activists who launch balloons carrying hundreds of thousands of leaflets across the border.

These criticise leader Kim Jong-Il as a dictator and repeat suggestions that he is in poor health -- an especially sensitive topic. South Korean officials have said he suffered a stroke in August but is recovering.

Ministry spokesman Kim called the move "regrettable."

He said Seoul "respects the spirit" of all agreements including the summit declarations and was ready to hold detailed talks on implementing them.

A senior presidential aide said North Korea may have been infuriated by the leaflets but the Seoul government could not legally ban them.

The aide, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it is not yet clear whether the North means to close the industrial complex and the day tours.

President Lee indicated Seoul would not over-react. "Waiting is sometimes also a strategy (for South Korea)," his spokesman quoted him as saying.

Analysts said the North would also wait.

Koh Yu-Hwan of Dongguk University said the December 1 date "means it will watch the South's attitude for a while."

Kim Keun-Sik of Kyungnam University told Yonhap news agency: "This is the first stage... The next step will be the complete shutdown of the Kaesong industrial park."

More than 32,000 North Koreans work for 83 South Korean-owned factories at Kaesong, along with about 1,500 South Koreans. It earns the impoverished North tens of millions of dollars a year.

A second joint project, the Mount Kumgang resort on the east coast, has already been shut down after North Korean soldiers in July shot dead a woman tourist who strayed into a restricted zone.

Kaesong and Kumgang are operated by South Korean company Hyundai Asan, which also operates the day trips to Kaesong city.

"We don't expect tours to Kaesong to be affected by this announcement," a spokesman told AFP.

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NKorea ready to improve ties with US: pro-Pyongyang newspaper
Seoul (AFP) Nov 10, 2008
North Korea is ready to improve relations with the United States if incoming president Barack Obama takes a friendly approach towards the communist country, a pro-Pyongyang newspaper said Monday.

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