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US Says North Korea Moving Equipment, Not Rebuilding Reactor


The U.S. State Department said Wednesday that North Korea has been moving equipment at its Yongbyon reactor site, but that it does not appear to be putting the facility back into operation. North Korea was reported to have begun reassembling the reactor in a dispute over terms of the six-party disarmament accord. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The State Department, which has observers on the ground at the Yongbyon site, is dismissing reports that North Korea has begun restoring the reactor, which has been off-line for many months.

But the United States is concerned about the situation. It is dispatching its chief delegate to the six-party talks, Christopher Hill, and a key deputy to Beijing to discuss the matter with China, the chair of the nuclear negotiations.

News reports from South Korea earlier Wednesday quoted officials in Seoul as saying that Pyongyang had begin restoring the reactor to protest North Korea still being named by the United States as a state sponsor of terrorism.

The U.S. says it is committed to taking the Pyongyang government off of the list, but only after it provides an acceptable verification plan for the declaration of its nuclear program submitted in June.

At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said equipment at Yongbyon had been taken out of storage, but that no effort has been observed to try to reassemble the reactor.

"Based on what we know from reports on the ground, you don't have an effort to reconstruct, reintegrate this equipment back into the Yongbyon facility," McCormack said. "It has been taken out from where it was being stored, I guess is the best way to put it at this point."

In late June, when Pyongyang submitted its declaration, President Bush announced his intention to remove North Korea from the terrorism list.

The action, which would end some major economic sanctions against North Korea, was to have taken effect within 45 days, provided that a verification plan was presented by Pyongyang and accepted by the other five parties.

Bush administration officials reject North Korea's claim that the United States is not in compliance with the agreement. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Wednesday that implementation of the six-party accord is based on action-for-action by all of the parties.

"We are expecting North Korea to live up to its obligations and we will most certainly live up to our obligations," Rice said. "This process has had its ups and downs, as any complex negotiating process will. It's had its ups and downs. But we believe that we should keep moving forward."

North Korea shut down and has been in the process of disabling the Yongbyon reactor - where plutonium for its nuclear weapons was produced - in return for energy aid from the other parties.

Approval of a verification regime would open the way to the next phase of the accord, under which North Korea is to receive various diplomatic benefits for dismantling its nuclear assets.

Assistant Secretary Hill and State Department Korean Affairs chief Sung Kim are to leave Washington on their brief Beijing mission Thursday.

Officials say there are no plans for them to meet North Korean officials there. But they say the United States has been in contact with Pyongyang on the latest developments.