PANMUNJOM, Korea (AFP) — North Korea has begun work to restart its nuclear reactor because the United States has failed to honour its part of an international disarmament deal, a Pyongyang official said Friday.
"We are making thorough preparations to restore (nuclear facilities)," said foreign ministry official Hyon Hak-Bong.
"You may say we have already started work to restore them to their original status," he told reporters at the border truce village of Panmunjom before the start of talks between the two Koreas on energy aid.
The talks went ahead despite the deadlock in the six-nation nuclear deal and uncertainty over the health of the communist state's leader King Jong-Il.
Kim, 66, failed to appear at a September 9 anniversary parade. South Korean officials later said he underwent brain surgery following a stroke but is recovering well.
Hyon, chief delegate to the talks, rejected the reports about Kim's health as malicious.
"That's sophism by evil people wanting to break up unity between the two Koreas," he said.
The communist North, which tested an atomic weapon in October 2006, began disabling its ageing reactor and other plants at Yongbyon last November as part of the pact agreed with South Korea, the US, Japan, China and Russia.
But it announced last month it had halted work in protest at Washington's refusal to drop it from a terrorism blacklist, as promised under the six-party deal.
Washington says the North must first accept strict outside verification of a nuclear inventory which it handed over in June. Hyon said such demands for what he called "forceful inspections" are not part of the six-party deal.
Similar demands for a "robber-like inspection method" led to war in Iraq, he said in opening remarks at the talks, adding that the US wants "to go anywhere at any time to collect samples and carry out examinations with measuring equipment."
Hyon said the North had "perfectly and flawlessly" completed 90 percent of disablement work including the extraction of 4,740 spent fuel rods.
In return for disablement, the North's negotiating partners promised the impoverished communist state one million tons of heavy fuel oil or equivalent energy assistance.
Nearly half has so far been delivered and Hwang Joon-Kook, the chief South Korean delegate, said the rest would be sent.
"We also want to make sure that the six-party process does not go backward," Hwang said in his own opening remarks.
In Seoul, Foreign Minister Yu Myung-Hwan said North Korea is raising obstacles to completion of the second phase of denuclearisation.
"North Korea understands well that the verification is about the declaration -- to verify whether it is correct and complete," Yu said.
In London the International Institute for Strategic Studies said Thursday the North could put its nuclear programme back on track in less than a year.
Uncertainty over the health of Kim Jong-Il means its stalemate with Washington over its nuclear programme is likely to continue, it added.
"Diplomatic efforts to stem the nuclear proliferation challenges posed by Iran and North Korea are both deadlocked," IISS chief John Chipman said.
"It will take North Korea less than one year to undo the steps that up until August it was taking to disable its declared nuclear facilities."
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