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US Deeply Troubled By North Korean Missile Launches

File image of a North Korean missile launch.
by Park Chan-Kyong
Seoul (AFP) June 28, 2007
North Korea has test-fired ballistic missiles, the United States confirmed Wednesday, as UN inspectors prepared to visit a reactor at the centre of the reclusive regime's nuclear programme. The United States said it was "deeply troubled" by the provocative tests into the Sea of Japan which come at a sensitive time in international negotiations over North Korea's nuclear disarmament.

"The United States is deeply troubled that North Korea has decided to launch these missiles during a delicate time in the six-party talks," National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said in a statement.

Johndroe said the US government expects "North Korea to refrain from conducting further provocative ballistic missile launches," which he said destabilize the security of northeast Asia.

It is unclear how many missiles were fired Wednesday in what South Korea's Yonhap news agency described as a routine North Korean military exercise.

The tests come as the UN inspectors were expected Thursday to visit the Yongbyon reactor in their first on-site inspection in nearly five years, the head of the delegation said.

The inspection is in line with a February deal, under which the North pledged to shut down the five-megawatt reactor under UN supervision in return for badly-needed energy aid and diplomatic concessions.

The agreement was drawn up after the impoverished nation stunned the world last October by carrying out its first ever nuclear weapons test.

Implementation of the deal was held up because of a dispute over North Korean funds frozen at a Macau bank. They were released and finally returned at the weekend to Pyongyang.

The four-member UN team had flown into North Korea on Tuesday unsure if it would be allowed to visit the reactor, which produces the raw material for bomb-making plutonium.

But the Japanese news agency Kyodo on Wednesday quoted Olli Heinonen, leading the International Atomic Energy Agency delegation, as saying the inspectors would travel to Yongbyon on Thursday.

The reactor, located 95 kilometres (60 miles) north of Pyongyang, was ostensibly built to generate electricity but is reportedly not connected to any power lines.

Instead, experts say, it has produced enough plutonium over 20 years for possibly up to a dozen nuclear weapons.

UN inspectors were last in North Korea in 2002, but they were kicked out in December that year at the start of a crisis that led to the regime's nuclear weapons test last year.

The United States said Wednesday that the missile launches were "a violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1718, which prohibits North Korea from engaging in all ballistic missile activities."

North Korea should instead focus on "implementing its commitments under the February 13th agreement," Johndroe added.

Under the terms of the accord, the North must eventually abandon the Yongbyon reactor. It also agreed to declare all of its nuclear programmes, including an enriched uranium-based scheme which it has denied operating.

As well as diplomatic benefits, such as talks on restoring diplomatic ties with Washington, the regime would receive emergency energy aid equivalent to one million tons of heavy fuel oil.

South Korean Foreign Minister Song Min-Soon voiced his optimism that the North would honour its promise to shut down the reactor.

"After the consultation is over, I think it (the Yongbyon reactor) will be shut down as early as possible," Song told reporters as he left for Washington. Song said he would meet Thursday with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to discuss "how to structure the measures that will follow the initial actions for the denuclearisation."

US nuclear envoy Christopher Hill, who last week became the highest-ranking US official to visit North Korea since 2002, has predicted it will shut down Yongbyon within three weeks.

He said he hoped the facility could be "disabled" by the end of the year.

Six-party talks to rein in Pyongyang's nuclear programme involve the US, China, the two Koreas, Japan and Russia.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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UN Inspectors In North Korea On Crunch Mission But Many Doubt Outcome
Seoul (AFP) June 26, 2007
UN inspectors arrived in North Korea on Tuesday for the first time in nearly five years, signalling a dramatic upturn in the pace of international efforts to halt the communist state's nuclear programmes. Before leaving Beijing for Pyongyang, the head of the four-person team from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Olli Heinonen, expressed optimism that the North would finally begin to disarm.

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