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Construction of US-North Korea Nuclear Reactor Begins - 2002-08-07

An international plan to build two nuclear reactors in North Korea took a symbolic step forward Wednesday. But a U.S. State Department official accuses the North of not complying with the agreement governing the project.

North Korean officials and representatives of a U.S. led consortium gathered to watch as the first concrete was poured for the landmark project. The event marks a new phase in the construction of two nuclear reactors under KEDO, or the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization.

KEDO was set up to run the $4.6 billion project under a 1994 agreement between the United States and North Korea. Pyongyang promised to suspend its suspected nuclear weapons program in exchange for fuel supplies and two Western-designed nuclear reactors.

But U.S. State Department official Jack Pritchard said in a speech at the ceremony Wednesday that North Korea was not abiding by the agreement. He says North Korea, or the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, must start meaningful cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency by allowing weapons inspections. He also says it must comply with all of its obligations under the terms of its agreement with the U.S.

"The United States will continue to abide by the terms of this accord so long as the DPRK does the same," he said. "We expect the DPRK to abide by the fact and the sprit of the agreement."

North Korea has yet to open its facilities to nuclear weapons inspectors looking for its suspected atomic weapons program. U.S. intelligence agencies think that North Korea may have stockpiled enough plutonium to manufacture two nuclear bombs.

Despite these concerns, Wednesday's ceremony comes as the reclusive North signals that it wants to engage with the outside world. It expressed regret for a June 29 naval battle with South Korea. It has agreed to talks with South Korean officials next week on establishing better inter-Korean relations. Pyongyang has also expressed a desire to reopen stalled contacts with the United States and Japan.

North and South Korea have remained rivals since the Korean War ended in 1953 without a peace treaty. While relations warmed briefly following a summit two years ago, little progress has been made since then.