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U.S., South Korea Urge North Korea Not to Restart Nuclear Program

Mr. Bush called Kim to discuss renewed concerns over North Korea’s nuclear program after the communist country announced Thursday that it would reopen a suspended nuclear power plant in response to the Bush administration’s decision to halt shipments of heavy oil.

“President Kim noted that North Korea’s statement on unfreezing its nuclear program is unacceptable,” White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters of the telephone call, which was first announced by the South Korean government.

“The two heads of state agreed that they cannot accept North Korea’s decision to lift its nuclear freeze, and they agreed to urge North Korea to withdraw its decision,” Kim’s national security adviser, Lim Sung-Joon, told reporters in Seoul.

The two leaders also “agreed to continue their efforts to seek a peaceful resolution,” Lim said.

According to Lim, President Bush said that he hoped the crisis could be resolved peacefully and that he wanted to send a message to North Korean President Kim Jong-Il that “the United States has no intention to invade his country.”

Washington suspended the oil shipments this month after the North Korean president 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 terms of a 1994 Geneva accord. North Korea countered that the construction of the power plants had stalled, and that with a harsh winter underway, the government needed to reopen the site to boost its capacity to generate electricity.

Under the 1994 agreement, 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.

In a statement issued by Pyongyang’s Korea Central News Agency on Thursday, the North Korean 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.

Mohamed ElBaradei, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), cautioned North Korea Friday not to move ahead with its nuclear program.

ElBaradei asked North Korea “to act with restraint in this tense situation — and not to take any unilateral action that might further complicate the IAEA’s ability to determine whether the [North Korean] inventory of nuclear material subject to safeguards was complete and correct.”

President Bush and South Korea’s Kim also discussed the increasing anti-U.S. sentiment in South Korea after U.S. military courts acquitted two American soldiers whose armored vehicle struck and killed two Korean schoolgirls in June.

President Bush said he felt “deep sadness and regret” over the deaths, according to Lim.

A massive street demonstration is planned for Saturday in South Korea that organizers say will attract some 100,000 South Koreans to protest what they view as preferential treatment for American troops based in the region.

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