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US Warns N. Korea Against Reprocessing  Nuclear Fuel

The United States said Friday a that any move by North Korea to reprocess nuclear reactor fuel rods would be a provocative step that would further isolate that country from the international community. The comments follow newspaper reports that U.S. spy satellites have observed what could be the movement of spent fuel rods out of North Korea's Yongbyon nuclear complex.

Bush administration spokesman would not directly comment on what U.S. intelligence may be observing at Yongbyon site, which North Korea has activated in violation of its previous international commitments.

But officials here are making clear that reprocessing the fuel rods, which had been in storage under supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), would only add to North Korea's self imposed isolation.

The White House said any step toward reprocessing would be another "provocative action" intended to "intimidate and blackmail" the international community.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said reprocessing would fly in the face of North Korean statements, repeated in recent days, that it does not intend to build nuclear weapons.

"North Korea has been saying loudly and publicly, as well as privately, to many nations that it has no intention of developing nuclear weapons," he said. "And yet we know, for example in the comments by the International Atomic Energy Agency director-general: his assessment is that once North Korea starts operating a reprocessing plant, they will be able to produce plutonium in increasing amounts as they go along. So, reprocessing the spent fuel is clearly a step in the direction of nuclear weapons."

The New York Times Friday said U.S. satellite photos indicate North Korea has begun to move the thousands of spent fuel rods that had been in secure storage at Yongbyon under the 1994 nuclear freeze accord with the United States, which North Korea says it considers nullified.

Spokesman Boucher said the United States supports an expected move by the International Atomic Energy Agency to take the issue of North Korea's recent nuclear actions to the U.N. Security Council, while stressing the Bush administration's commitment to resolving the matter peacefully through diplomacy.

In a Washington policy address Friday, Secretary of State Colin Powell said the United States was ready to offer North Korea security guarantees, and to further assist it in overcoming its daunting economic crisis, provided it returned to compliance with international nuclear accords:

"The United States has no intention of attacking North Korea," said Mr. Powell. "President Bush has made this clear. And we are prepared to convey this assurance to North Korea in a way that makes sense and is unmistakable. We stand ready to build a different kind of relationship with North Korea, but only when it comes into verifiable compliance with its international commitments. We want to see North Korea out of the proliferation business and integrated peacefully into the region and into the world community."

The Bush administration says it had been preparing an overture for better relations with North Korea last year, but says it shelved the so-called "bold approach" when North Korea admitted to a U.S. envoy last October that it was enriching uranium in violation of the 1994 agreement.

Mr. Powell said the United States and other concerned countries want to help North Korea out of its "desperate" economic straits, but cannot easily assist a country he said is "so dismissive of the concerns of the international community."