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North Korea Reiterates Demand for Light-Water Reactors

North Korea has reiterated its demand that the United States immediately provide it with civilian nuclear reactors. A senior North Korean official outlined the demand Thursday in an address to the U.N. General Assembly.

North Korea's deputy Foreign Minister Choe Su Hon told the General Assembly Washington should give his country light-water reactors to build confidence in the nuclear disarmament agreement approved last Monday. He referred to North Korea by its formal acronym, DPRK.

"What is most essential at this stage is for the United States to provide light-water reactors to the DPRK as soon as possible as evidence proving the former's substantial recognition of the latter's right to peaceful nuclear activities," he said.

Diplomats in the General Assembly Hall noted that the tone of the anti-American rhetoric was much milder than in North Korea's past General Assembly speeches.

But Mr. Choe blamed Washington for North Korea's decision to maintain a military nuclear weapons program.

"Under the circumstances in which the United States, the world's only superpower is looking down upon us, threatening with nuclear weapons, the DPRK, with a small territory and population, has no alternative but to possess a legitimate self-defense means," he explained.

The North Korean minister said there would be no need for Pyongyang to have nuclear weapons if relations with the United States were normalized.

After two years of six-party talks in Beijing, North Korea agreed Monday to give up its nuclear arms program in return for energy aid and security guarantees. But a day later, North Korean officials appeared to back away from the deal, saying the United States should provide light-water reactors before the weapons program is dismantled.

At a news conference later that same day, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice brushed aside the North Korean demand, saying the reactors would be provided only after Pyongyang abandons its nuclear arms in a verifiable manner.

"I think we'll just stick with the text of Beijing agreement to which the North Koreans signed on, and the text of the agreement says we'll discuss a light water reactor at an appropriate time," she said. "There were several statements afterwards that make clear what that sequence is. This issue doesn't really arise."

The six-party talks began after the United States accused North Korea of having a clandestine program to enrich uranium in violation of international agreements. North Korea first denied the charge, but early this year said that it did have nuclear weapons.

In addition to the United States and North Korea, the six-party talks include China, South Korea, Japan and Russia.