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Hmmm...interesting development...North Korea Said to Halt Work at Nuclear Facility
Filed at 4:52 p.m. ET
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - North Korea appears to have halted work at its Yongbyon nuclear complex, center of efforts to produce plutonium for atomic weapons, U.S. officials said on Thursday.
The officials said they did not know the reason, but told Reuters possibilities include: Pyongyang has done this as a gesture to encourage negotiations with Washington; run into technical difficulties, or, more ominously, finished reprocessing fuel needed for a half dozen or more nuclear bombs.
``There's not much going on,'' one U.S. official said when asked about current activity at Yongbyon.
Another said: ``I sense there may be a pause in the action but would be nervous about concluding that for certain.''
Meanwhile, Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly disclosed that Washington remains concerned that China, despite hosting six-party talks aimed at resolving the North Korean nuclear crisis, continues to abet Pyongyang's weapons programs.
China has been ``quite restrictive'' in stopping the flow of major technologies to the North but ``there is some leakage around the edges,'' requiring Kelly to raise the issue with Beijing in the last two weeks, he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
``I know that there have been examples in which China blocked shipments but ... there are many North Korean companies and front companies operating around in China,'' Kelly said.
He gave no details but experts said China has aided the missile program of North Korea, among other countries, with dual use items and raw materials that are hard to control.
On reports of Yongbyon inactivity, Kelly would only answer questions in a closed session. The subject was dropped.
If Yongbyon operations have been deliberately halted to facilitate six-party negotiations, the effect may be offset by an ominous new development. U.S. officials told Reuters on Wednesday the North used Russian technology to produce a new intermediate range ballistic missile that may be the most accurate and capable in Pyongyang's inventory.
The first report of the operations halt at Yongbyon came from the South Korean news agency Kyodo on Wednesday.
``I'm not sure what to make of it. There's a lot we don't know about North Korea,'' a U.S. official said.
``Maybe they've stopped (reprocessing). Maybe they've finished. Maybe they never got very far and decided to wait. Maybe there were technical problems ... Anyone who tells you they know is lying,'' he added.
U.S. officials previously confirmed that Pyongyang had resumed operations at Yongbyon, which had been frozen under a defunct 1994 nuclear agreement with the United States.
But Washington has been skeptical of claims the isolated communist state completed reprocessing of 8,000 spent fuel rods sitting in a holding pond. They could be used to produce fuel for a half dozen more nuclear bombs beyond the one or two intelligence agencies say the North may have.
One U.S. official said there have been no recent reports of krypton gas, a reprocessing byproduct, coming from Yongbyon.
Washington intensified its satellite vigilance over North Korea in the run-up to Tuesday's celebrations of the 55th anniversary its founding, amid expectations Pyongyang might parade a new missile or conduct a missile or nuclear test.
After months of accelerating weapons program activity, the North attended six-party talks in Beijing last month with China, the United States, South Korea, Japan and Russia.
The talks, intended to launch a process to resolve a crisis over Pyongyang's nuclear program, may resume in November.
The Americans demand the North agree to a verifiable and irreversible end to its nuclear programs, including production of highly enriched uranium for nuclear fuel and plutonium.