Part of the nuclear complex is an experimental reactor that U.S. intelligence officials say produced enough reprocessed uranium for two nuclear warheads before it was shut down in accordance with the Geneva agreement signed in October 1994.
Under that accord, the U.S. agreed to build twin light-water nuclear reactors to help fulfill North Korea’s energy needs and to supply the North with oil until the reactors were built.
Washington suspended the oil shipments this month after North Korean President Kim Jong-Il announced that his country had been pursuing a program to produce weapons-grade uranium for several years. The U.S. said North Korea had agreed to abandon all research and development of nuclear weapons under the 1994 agreement. North Korea countered that the construction of the power plants had stalled, and that with a harsh winter underway, the government needed to reopen to site to boost its capacity to generate electricity.
In a statement issued by Pyongyang’s Korea Central News Agency, the government said it had decided to resume “the operation and construction of its nuclear facilities” in order to produce electricity since the United States “has virtually abandoned its obligations.”
The statement also accused the president of violating the “spirit” of the agreement by calling North Korea a member of an “axis of evil,” along with Iraq and Iran.
The announcement also follows the interception of a ship in the Arabian Sea this week carrying Scud missiles from North Korea to Yemen. The U.S. eventually allowed the ship to continue its delivery after the Yemeni government protested that the weapons were legally purchased for its own military use.
South Korean officials expressed cautious concern at Thursday’s move.
“We can only speculate that yesterday’s incident and North Korea’s electricity shortage in the winter propelled North Korea to make a response,” said Kim Sung-han of the state-run Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security in South Korea.
South Korea, along with Japan and the European Union, signed the 1994 Geneva agreement and backed the suspension of oil shipments.
From China, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said Beijing pledged to urge the North to call off its nuclear weapons program.
“China shares the same concern” as the United States, South Korea and Japan, Armitage said, “that we have to find a way to denuclearize” the Korean peninsula.
In Washington, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the problem could be resolved peacefully, but criticized North Korea for acting without regard to international consensus.
“The announcement flies in the face of international consensus that the North Korea regime must fulfill all its commitments, in particular dismantling its nuclear weapons program,” he said.