SEOUL, South Korea, APNorth Korea insisted Tuesday it won”t dismantle its nuclear weapons program until the U.S. gives it civilian nuclear reactors, casting doubt on a disarmament agreement reached a day earlier during international talks.
Washington reiterated its rejection of the reactor demand and joined China in urging North Korea to stick to the agreement announced Monday in which it pledged to abandon all its nuclear programs in exchange for economic aid and security assurances.
North Korea”s new demands underlined its unpredictable nature and deflated some optimism from the Beijing agreement, the first since negotiations began in August 2003 among the two Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia.
"The U.S. should not even dream of the issue of (North Korea”s) dismantlement of its nuclear deterrent before providing (light-water reactors), a physical guarantee for confidence-building," the North”s Foreign Ministry said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.
U.S. officials dismissed the demand.
"This is not the agreement that they signed, and we”ll give them some time to reflect on the agreement they signed," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in New York on Monday.
The announcement Monday that North Korea would dismantle existing weapons and stop building new ones, culminating two years of bargaining, contained no deadlines and few details. The six parties in the talks agreed to meet again in November, when the difficult questions of verification and timetables would be on the table.
The North had demanded since the latest round of six-party talks began last week in the Chinese capital that it be given a light-water reactor — a type less easily diverted for weapons use — in exchange for disarming. U.S. officials opposed the idea, maintaining North Korea could not be trusted with any nuclear program.
The issue was sidestepped Monday, with participants saying they would discuss it later — "at an appropriate time." The North, however, chose to immediately press the issue, essentially introducing a major condition on its pledge to disarm.
Japan swiftly joined the United States in rejecting the demand.
"The Japanese side has continuously said that North Korea”s demand is unacceptable," Japanese Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura said.
China, North Korea”s closest ally in the talks, urged Pyongyang to join the other negotiating partners in implementing the commitments in "a serious manner."
South Korea remained optimistic, with its point man on North Korea relations saying the country”s latest statement isn”t likely to derail the Beijing agreement.
"It”s possible that the parties differ over this, but we and other participating countries are going to discuss it in bilateral or multilateral contacts before the fifth round of talks resume in early November," Unification Minister Chung Dong-young said on MBC radio.
South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun predicted that "the United States and North Korea will likely engage in a tug-of-war," but added that prospects for resolving the nuclear issue are brighter after Monday”s agreement.
Other countries at the Beijing talks made clear that the reactor could only be discussed after the North rejoins the Non-Proliferation Treaty and accepts inspections from the International Atomic Energy Agency — which North Korea pledged to do in Monday”s agreement.
State Department spokesman Adam Ereli emphasized earlier in Washington that the "appropriate time" for discussing the reactor meant only after the North complies with those conditions.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang was asked in Beijing whether North Korea might have misunderstood the order of commitments laid out in the statement Monday.
"The common statement was adopted by all six parties and I don”t think North Korea has any misunderstanding," Qin said.
Qin said that the November talks were still on, as far as he knew.
President Bush”s administration has opposed anything resembling a 1994 U.S.-North Korea agreement, which promised the North two light-water reactors for power. That project stalled amid the current crisis, which broke out in late 2002 after U.S. officials said the North admitted having a secret nuclear program.
The North”s latest position is likely to be a major sticking point in future discussions.
"If the North meant it, it would pose a lot of problems for future talks," said Baek Seung-joo, senior researcher at the Korea Institute for Defense Analysis in Seoul. "The United States will never be able to accept the North”s demand as it means going back to the 1994 agreement."
The agreement Monday had drawn praise around the world and raised hopes of resolving a standoff that has raised concerns of an arms race in northeast Asia.
Under the pact, in exchange for abandoning its weapons, the North gets security guarantees and energy aid, including a pledge from South Korea to provide it with electricity.
The North said Tuesday it would "wait and see how the U.S. will move" and warned there would "very serious and complicated" consequences if Washington demands the dismantlement of the communist nation”s nuclear programs before providing a light-water reactor.