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South Korea Expresses 'Grave Concern' Over North's Nuclear Plant Decision - 2002-12-13

Seoul has expressed "grave concern" over North Korea's announcement that it will reactivate its nuclear power facilities, and has called on Pyongyang to reverse its decision. North Korea's announcement could have an impact on the South's presidential elections next week.

In a statement, Seoul expressed strong regret and grave concern over the announcement from Pyongyang that it will end the freeze on nuclear power facilities. The South Korean government warned the decision could raise tensions on the Korean peninsula.

The statement followed an emergency meeting of South Korea's National Security Council, called immediately after the North Korean decision was made public.

Seoul urged Pyongyang to comply with international agreements, designed to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, adding the North Korean nuclear issue had to be resolved peacefully, and as soon as possible.

Under a 1994 agreement with the United States, North Korea pledged to suspend its nuclear power facilities. Pyongyang's announcement that it will reactivate them comes just days before South Korea's closely-contested presidential elections. North Korea has been a key issue in the election campaign, after the United States said in October that Pyongyang had admitted to having a nuclear weapons program, in violation of the 1994 agreement

In past elections, security concerns regarding North Korea have favored the conservative candidate. The liberal nominee for the presidency, Roh Moo-Hyun, has already come under fire for his conciliatory approach to North Korea. A spokesman for Mr. Roh's Millennium Democratic Party, sought to minimize the negative impact on his campaign.

The spokesman says North Korea must give up its nuclear development program. He says South Korea and the United States should engage in dialogue with North Korea, and expresses the hope that the issue can be resolved peacefully.

Mr. Roh is in a tight electoral contest with the conservative candidate, Lee Hoi-Chang, who has a more hawkish approach toward the North. Mr. Lee demanded Pyongyang abandon what he called its practice of engaging in brinkmanship, which he warned could cause a crisis on the peninsula that could run out of control.

In Tokyo, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said the North Korean announcement was extremely regrettable.

Mr. Koizumi says North Korea's declaration must be resolved peacefully. He adds that it is necessary for Japan, the United States and South Korea to closely cooperate and respond in a cool-headed manner.