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No Evidence N. Korea Reprocessing Nuclear Rods, Says Seoul - 2003-07-14

South Korea has said there is no evidence to confirm Pyongyang's claim it has finished reprocessing spent nuclear fuel rods, which could yield weapons-grade plutonium. The latest statement comes amid a series of conflicting reports on North Korea's nuclear activities.

South Korean Foreign Minister Yoon Young-kwan said Monday the government has no proof that communist North Korea has completed reprocessing its 8,000 spent nuclear fuel rods.

Reprocessing the rods would allow Pyongyang to increase its arsenal, which U.S. intelligence experts say already includes one or two nuclear weapons.

The comments, given during a radio interview, come in response to a South Korean news report Sunday saying that the North may have reprocessed all of its spent nuclear fuel. It quoted Chang Sung-min, an intelligence aide to former President Kim Dae-jung, who said North Korean diplomats told U.S. officials in New York that the reprocessing was finished on June 30.

The claim contradicts a South Korean government report last week that Pyongyang had reprocessed only a small number of the rods.

Another North Korean neighbor, Japan, on Monday warned Pyongyang not to escalate the nuclear dispute.

Government spokesman Yasuo Fukuda says that increased tensions will lead only to North Korea's isolation in the international community. He adds that Japan has no confirmation on the latest reports concerning the North's nuclear reprocessing, but that Tokyo, Seoul and Washington continue to exchange information.

The nuclear fuel rods were part of a weapons program that North Korea halted under a 1994 deal with the United States. The agreement unraveled after U.S. revelations last October that North Korea had secretly begun another nuclear weapons program. That program violates several international accords Pyongyang has signed.

North Korea demands one-on-one talks with the United States to resolve the issue. But the Bush administration wants multilateral talks involving other countries in the region.