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North Korea Considers Restoring Yongbyon Reactor


North Korea says it has halted work to disable its main nuclear reactor. Official media in Pyongyang blame Washington for the move and warn the government may restart its nuclear program, breaking international promises to dismantle it. From Seoul, Jason Strother has more.

The Korean Central News Agency, a mouthpiece of the North Korean government, said on Tuesday that dismantling of the Yongbyon reactor has come to a halt.

The report says the work stopped on August 14, after Washington failed to remove Pyongyang from the list of states that sponsor terrorism.

The U.S. government says de-listing cannot occur until North Korea accepts a system for verifying the contents of the nuclear declaration that it turned over in June.

At six-nation nuclear talks last month, a draft proposal for inspection was put down on the negotiating table, but Pyongyang never responded.

Daniel Pinkston, the senior analyst for the International Crisis Group in Seoul, says North Korea may think Washington's request seeks too much sensitive information.

"Well probably the nature and scope of access that the US is asking for; probably something that is difficult to grant," said Pinkston.

North Korea also threatens to restore the partly dismantled nuclear reactor.

The Yongbyon facility was the heart of the North's nuclear weapons program, until it was powered down last year. It produced plutonium, the type of material that was most likely used in the nuclear device Pyongyang tested in 2006.

Nuclear analysts say it could take months to restart Yongbyon's reactor.

North Korea's announcement comes as South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and Chinese President Hu Jintao met in Seoul and reaffirmed their commitment to ending Pyongyang's nuclear programs.

South Korea, China, Japan, Russia and the United States have been working for years to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program. In six-nation talks 18 months ago, Pyongyang agreed to do that in return for economic and diplomatic benefits.

Progress on the agreement, however, has been fitful, with frequent delays in meeting its requirements.

Some regional political experts say that Beijing, North Korea's closest ally, is key to getting Pyongyang to come clean on its nuclear program.

Pinkston says that while China does have influence, it cannot work miracles.

"Yeah they're certainly not pleased about it, but that turns [to] the question of leverage. What can they actually do? They can provide some pressure but there are limits to that and North Korea is not simply going to do what China tells it to do," added Pinkston.

Earlier this month, North Korea reacted angrily to military exercises the United States held with its ally South Korea. In addition, the North Korean media have recently lashed at the United States over its demand for verification.

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