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North Korea, US at odds on non-weapons nuclear plant

American envoy says regime had broken past deal

BEIJING -- North Korea insisted it should get a nuclear reactor to generate electricity in exchange for abandoning atomic weapons development, but the main US envoy at disarmament talks yesterday said Washington and its partners have no intention of meeting the demand.

After his first one-on-one meeting with the North Korean delegation at this round of six-nation talks on the communist nation's nuclear program, US Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said the sides ''did not make a lot of progress."

The talks, which also include China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea, resumed Tuesday after a five-week recess. The last session failed to yield an agreement after 13 days of meetings, and no end date has been set for these negotiations.

Under the offer on the table, North Korea would receive economic aid and security guarantees from Washington along with free electricity from South Korea for dismantling its nuclear weapons program.

But the Pyongyang regime has also asked for a light-water nuclear reactor, a type believed to be more difficult to be diverted for weapons use.

The North was to get two such reactors in a 1994 deal with the United States under which it agreed to give up nuclear arms. That project stalled in late 2002, when US officials said the North admitted to having a secret arms program in violation of the earlier agreement.

The White House has been highly critical of the earlier deal, which was reached by the Clinton administration.

Hill said that North Korea has pursued a nuclear program for 25 years and used it solely to make weapons-grade plutonium for atomic bombs -- not for generating electricity.

''Not a single light bulb has been turned on as a result of the nuclear reactor in North Korea," he said, referring to the country's main atomic facility in Yongbyon.

Hill also noted that North Korea has withdrawn from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and has expelled international atomic inspectors.

North Korean diplomats did not comment on the day's talks. But the North's chief negotiator, Kim Kye Gwan, said Tuesday that his country had a right to a peaceful nuclear program, China's official news agency reported.

Hill warned that the demand for a reactor could become a ''major problem" at the talks.

''There's not too many other ways I know how to say 'no' without slipping into another language," Hill said of his meeting.

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