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US Rejects Reviving Power Plant Deal to Settle N. Korean Nuclear Crisis - 2004-05-19

The United States Wednesday dismissed suggestions that it might be willing to revive a plan to provide North Korea with nuclear power plants as part of a deal ending Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program. The State Department says the Bush administration "sees no future" in such a project.

U.S. officials acknowledge that North Korea raised the issue of the civilian power plants at six-nation "working group" meetings on the nuclear issue that ended last week in Beijing.

But the State Department is rejecting as "inaccurate" a published report that the United States said it might again consider providing such power stations as part of a disarmament deal.

The United States, Japan and South Korea agreed to provide North Korea with two Western-designed light-water nuclear plants for generating electricity as part of the 1994 "agreed framework" negotiated by the Clinton administration under which Pyongyang was to have frozen its nuclear program.

Implementation of the accord, however, crumbled after North Korea acknowledged in 2002 that it had a secret uranium enrichment program, and later expelled international inspectors from its Yongbyon reactor complex.

Late last year the international consortium building the power plants, KEDO, suspended the project.

At a news briefing, State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said the U.S. delegation in Beijing did not "welcome or entertain" the idea of reviving the power-plant project.

"Our objective remains the complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of North Korea's nuclear programs, and that's where the focus needs to be. We're not prepared to provide inducements to North Korea for compliance with its international obligations. But I would also add that, as a matter of policy, that we do not see a future for the light-water reactor project," he said.

Construction crews were building the foundation of the first nuclear power plant in North Korea when KEDO suspended the project last November. The project was years behind schedule and North Korea had complained in the past that the delays amounted to a violation of the "agreed framework."

A U.S. diplomat who spoke to reporters here said for the building to resume, there would have to be a unanimous vote of the KEDO governing board, which includes the United States, South Korea, Japan and the European Union. He made clear the Bush administration would veto any such revival.

The U.S. administration has said however that it would join in multilateral guarantees for North Korea's security in the context of a verifiable agreement ending its nuclear weapons effort.

While itself ruling out inducements to North Korea in advance of such an agreement, it has said other participants in the six-party talks might provide aid to Pyongyang if they so choose.

U.S. officials further say that if a disarmament deal is struck, the Bush administration might revive the so-called "bold approach" of increased aid and recognition they say the White House was contemplating for North Korea before the current crisis erupted in 2002.

The "working group" meetings, which brought together host China along with the United States, North and South Korea, Russia and Japan, ended last Friday with no breakthrough. But the participants still aim for a third round of full-scale negotiations before the end of June.