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N. Korea to Take 'Countermeasures' if Nuclear Project Halted - 2003-11-06

North Korea is threatening to take what it calls "appropriate countermeasures" if an international consortium suspends construction of two nuclear power reactors in the country. The comment comes as talks are under way between Seoul and Pyongyang on economic cooperation.

North Korea's Central News Agency on Thursday said that Pyongyang would seize the assets of the reactor project if construction stops, unless it is compensated. The report says North Korea will not permit the consortium to remove equipment or technical documents from the reactor sites.

The comment comes a day after a U.S. official said the multi-billion dollar project has "no future."

The board of the consortium, known as the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization - or Kedo - met this week to discuss the project. The consortium members, the United States, the European Union, Japan and South Korea, reportedly favor suspending or halting construction, but delayed a final decision until later this month.

The reactor project is part of a 1994 agreement that ended a previous nuclear standoff between the United States and North Korea. The deal required North Korea to dismantle an earlier nuclear program in exchange for two light-water nuclear reactors to generate power, and supplies of fuel oil from the United States until the first reactor was done.

The United States halted the fuel shipments last year, after it said North Korea admitted having a covert nuclear weapons program - a violation of the 1994 accord, and other international agreements.

Thursday's comment from Pyongyang comes as South and North Korea hold economic talks. The South's delegation has asked Pyongyang to join a second round of six-party talks about its nuclear weapons program. South Korea's Yonhap news agency says the delegation warned that inter-Korean economic cooperation would stall unless the nuclear dispute is resolved promptly.

North Korean delegates have steered clear of the nuclear issue at the meeting in Pyongyang, and have urged Seoul to move ahead with joint economic projects.

In Washington on Thursday, a senior Chinese diplomat is to brief U.S. officials about his recent trip to Pyongyang. Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wang Yi is viewed as a key player in Beijing's efforts to resolve the standoff over North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

A first round of nuclear talks, held in Beijing in August, ended with only an agreement that another round of discussions should be held. No date has been set for the next round.