SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea said Tuesday it would begin dismantling its nuclear program only if the United States provides a light-water reactor for civilian power.
The demand could threaten a day-old agreement between North Korea and the five nations involved in nuclear disarmament talks.
“Without this physical guarantee of the (light-water reactor), our position is not to even dream of us giving up our nuclear deterrence,” the official KCNA news agency quoted a spokesman for the North Korean Foreign Ministry as saying.
In Tokyo, the Kyodo News agency quoted Japanese Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura as saying North Korea’s latest demand was unacceptable, The Associated Press reported.
But South Korea’s reaction was more muted, with a key minister saying the demand was to be expected and that it would not jeopardize Monday’s deal.
South Korean Unification Minister Chung Dong-young said on a radio program the North’s response to the agreement could be handled in diplomatic talks before a further round of negotiations, Reuters reports.
North Korea’s comments came a day after Pyongyang agreed to give up its entire nuclear program, including weapons — a landmark agreement that was announced in a joint statement from six-party nuclear arms talks in Beijing.
The joint statement said North Korea had “committed to abandoning all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs and returning at an early date” to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and to abide by International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards.
The statement also said that North Korea stated that it has the the right to “peaceful uses of nuclear energy” and that the provision of a nuclear light-water reactor would be discussed at “an appropriate time.” (Full statement)
According to the KCNA report, that time is now. “It has yet to be seen how the U.S. will realize its promise, but if the U.S. continues to demand the giving up of our nuclear weapons prior to providing the (reactor), then nothing changes between the nuclear relationship between the U.S. and North Korea,” the North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman said.
Speaking to reporters at the United Nations Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the light-water reactor issue was to be discussed “down the road” — not immediately.
“If you read the accompanying statements of several of the participants, you will see that there is a clarity about the need for North Korea to dismantle, get back into the (non-proliferation treaty), get IAEA safeguards and then discuss a light-water reactor. So I think this issue is some time in the future.”
She added, “When the North Koreans have dismantled their nuclear weapons and other nuclear programs verifiably and are indeed nuclear-free, when they are back in the (treaty), when they have gotten into IAEA safeguards, I suppose we can discuss anything.”
Earlier Monday, President Bush called North Korea’s decision to abandon its nuclear program “a positive step,” but asked “will all parties adhere to the agreement?”
“Five nations have spoken and said it is not in the world’s interests that North Korea have a nuclear weapon,” Bush said. “And now there’s a way forward. And part of the way forward is for the North Koreans to understand that we’re serious about this, and that we expect there to be a verifiable process.”
Monday’s announced agreement came on what was the seventh day of the fourth round of six-party talks. A fifth round of talks has been scheduled for November.
As part of the agreement, the United States, China, Japan, Russia and South Korea “stated their willingness” to provide energy assistance to North Korea, as well as promoting economic cooperation.
The World Food Program has said that North Korea is headed toward the worst humanitarian food crisis since the mid 1990s, when an estimated 1 million North Koreans died.
The World Food Program says 6.5 million North Koreans desperately need food aid. (U.N. to end food aid to N. Korea)
North Korea ordered U.N. nuclear inspectors out of the country nearly three years ago, and it has since said it has a nuclear weapon and continued to pursue more of the destructive weapons.
The United States, as well as the four other nations involved in the talks, has said the Korean peninsula must not have nuclear weapons.