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N.Korea, US to Hold KEDO Talks - 2003-12-08

Officials from North Korea and the U.S.-led consortium building a nuclear reactor in the country will meet this week. They will discuss issues related to the project's suspension - a decision the consortium made because of concerns about Pyongyang's nuclear weapons drive.

North Korea representatives and officials from the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization, or KEDO, plan to meet Wednesday and Thursday. They will discuss the recent suspension of KEDO's $5 billion nuclear reactor project.

They will meet in the North Korean village of Kumho, where KEDO has been building two light water reactors to provide the impoverished nation with electricity. The delegates are likely to discuss such issues as returning equipment and documents to the KEDO partners - the United States, the European Union, Japan and South Korea.

Pyongyang reacted angrily to the consortium's decision last month to freeze work on the reactors in light of the 14-month-old standoff over the North's nuclear weapons programs. It threatened to seize documents and construction machinery at the project.

Some North Korea watchers, such as Haruki Wada, professor emeritus of Tokyo University, expect Pyongyang to reiterate demands that it be compensated for the suspension. Mr. Wada says the suspension of the reactor project is a serious blow to North Korea, where power blackouts are frequent.

The reactor project was part of a 1994 accord between Pyongyang and Washington. North Korea promised to dismantle its nuclear arms program in return for the reactors and fuel oil shipments. The new reactors would not be able to produce material that could be used to make weapons.

KEDO cut-off (non-nuclear) fuel shipments last year, weeks after U.S. officials said North Korea acknowledged that it was secretly pursuing nuclear weapons, in defiance of the 1994 pact with the United States and other international accords. In response, Pyongyang pulled out of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and expelled nuclear inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency.

South Korean officials warn that the fate of the reactor project will influence international efforts to end the nuclear dispute. Diplomats are trying to arrange a second round of six-nation talks on the issue but so far no date has been set. A first round was held in Beijing in August with North and South Korea, the United States, China, Russia and Japan, but they ended inconclusively.

A European Union delegation is to arrive in Pyongyang Tuesday for a three-day visit to try to help bring the North back to the negotiating table.