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Fresh Fuel Moved to N. Korean Reactor - 2002-12-26

South Korean President Kim Dae-jung says his nation must be at the forefront of efforts to halt North Korea's nuclear brinkmanship. North Korea has started moving fresh fuel to a nuclear facility that could produce weapons-grade plutonium.

At a special cabinet meeting, President Kim Dae-jung said Thursday, South Korea must take a leading role in resolving the crisis over Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program.

Mr. Kim told his government to consult with the country's allies in a manner that lets Seoul determine its own position on the issue.

He says he would not do what South Korea did in 1994, when it was sidelined during talks on the Agreed Framework accord between the North and the United States. It ended up paying billions of dollars to help build two safer nuclear reactors in the Stalinist state.

His comments come one day after the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, said North Korea is moving fresh fuel rods into the five-megawatt reactor at Yongbyon.

The IAEA says several hundred rods have been moved, but that many more would be needed to restart the reactor. North Korea estimates the reactor could be running in one or two months, but the U.N. agency thinks it will take longer.

North Korea denies it is developing nuclear weapons, saying it needs to reactivate the facility to generate electricity. A report on state-run Radio Pyongyang says the country has an anti-nuclear, peace-loving policy.

Japanese government spokesman Yasuo Fukuda said Tokyo thinks North Korea has not yet loaded the rods into the reactor. He added that the United States and its allies need to keep an eye on what further steps the North might take, and they must work together on this issue.

In the past week, North Korea has taken a series of steps to restart its nuclear facilities, which were shut down under the 1994 pact with Washington. In exchange, North Korea was to receive the two light water reactors and annual shipments of fuel oil.

But after Pyongyang told U.S. officials in October that it had a secret program to enrich uranium, which could be used to make nuclear weapons, Washington and its allies halted the oil shipments.

North Korea has removed IAEA security seals and monitoring cameras at all four of Yongbyon's reactors. The U.N. nuclear watchdog agency warns there is enough spent fuel at Yongbyon to make at least three nuclear bombs within months.

North Korea wants the United States to sign a non-aggression treaty, and has accused it of pushing the Korean Peninsula to the brink of nuclear war. Washington says it will not reopen official talks with the North until it halts it nuclear programs.