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North Korea Increasing Nuclear Production - 2003-04-18

North Korea says it is in the final stages of reprocessing more than eight thousand used fuel rods from its main nuclear power plant. The move comes days before next week’s talks in Beijing, involving North Korea, China and the United States on Pyongyang’s nuclear program. As of last Friday, the Bush administration had not decided whether to drop out of that meeting- given Pyongyang’s latest announcement. Kimberly Russell reports.

Experts say the number of rods being re-processed would provide enough plutonium for several atomic bombs. North Korea’s Central News Agency said the United States and other concerned parties have been informed of the re-processing.

North Korea’s willingness to hold talks with a third party is considered a breakthrough, especially since officials had earlier demanded one-on-one talks with the United States. Appearing on a news program, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said the U.S. has not placed any conditions on the upcoming talks.

“Let’s just sit and start to exchange views. And let’s do it at a fairly moderate level. Let’s not raise it to the highest level yet. Just to start the discussion and see where the discussions take us.”

North Korea insists its nuclear program is strictly for peaceful purposes. The government said it was forced to reactivate its nuclear facilities, last year, after a U.S.-led effort suspended fuel shipments to Pyongyang. But U.S. intelligence says it believes Pyongyang already has one or two crude nuclear bombs.