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Japan Expresses Regret Over N. Korean Reactor Re-Activation - 2003-02-27

Japan is expressing regret over North Korea's reported re-activation of a banned nuclear reactor. Both the Japanese and South Korean governments are trying to find out more precisely what is going on at the Yongbyon nuclear complex. Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi says, if the news is true, Japan will insist that North Korea not do "such a thing." But the prime minister called for calm in the face of North Korea's latest nuclear provocation. Mr. Koizumi's comments Thursday came after Washington reported that North Korea has reactivated a banned nuclear reactor.

Earlier, chief government spokesman Yasuo Fukuda said if North Korea has restarted Yongbyon's nuclear reactor it is "extremely regrettable." He says from the standpoint of preventing the spread of North Korea's nuclear capabilities it is a regrettable act and Pyongyang must return to its commitment to nuclear non-proliferation.

North Korea had agreed to shut down the Yongbyon nuclear facilities in 1994, but has breached that agreement and other international accords in the last several months. Both Japan and South Korea say they are trying to obtain more information about the state of the nuclear complex at Yongbyon.

The United States says Yongbyon's reactor has been started, and it is concerned North Korea will begin reprocessing spent reactor fuel into weapons-grade material.

North Korea says it needs Yongbyon to produce badly needed electricity after the United States and its partners cut off fuel aid after accusing Pyongyang of having a covert nuclear weapons program in October. But U.S. officials say the restarted reactor is only about five megawatts, too small to produce much power.

Months of diplomatic consultations have not resolved the dispute over North Korea's nuclear programs.

Pyongyang has been demanding direct talks and a non-aggression treaty, with the United States in exchange for negotiations on its nuclear activities. But the Bush administration has said Pyongyang should not be rewarded for violating its international agreements and that any talks with North Korea should include other countries besides the United States, such as key regional players China, Russian, Japan and South Korea.

Newly-inaugurated South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun has referred to North Korea's nuclear development program as a "threat to world peace." Mr. Roh added that South Korea is committed to working with the United States to achieve a peaceful solution to the standoff with Pyongyang.

The issue has been referred to the U.N. Security Council, which could impose sanctions. North Korea has said it would consider such a move tantamount to a declaration of war.

On the Tokyo stock exchange Thursday, the benchmark index fell below a 19-year-closing low at one point, partly due to the report about the apparent reactivation of the North Korean nuclear reactor.