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North Korea told the United States this week it would start restoring its nuclear facilities before it began to move mothballed equipment for reinstatement, a South Korean official said Thursday.
Pyongyang gave the notification Tuesday to US personnel stationed at the North's Yongbyon nuclear plant and started moving some equipment, taken apart from plutonium-producing facilities, out of storage Wednesday, said a Foreign Ministry official.
"They were moving some equipment" to the original sites, said the official, citing information provided by the United States. But he did not say what the equipment was. The official spoke on condition of anonymity citing the issue's sensitivity.
"This is a clear violation of a six-party agreement," he said, referring to a disarmament pact that the North reached with the US and four other nations last year. The official said Seoul would try to persuade Pyongyang to reverse its action.
North Korea had publicly warned of such a move last week after stopping work to disable facilities at Yongbyon, including its main nuclear reactor, claiming Washington had failed to remove it from the US blacklist of states sponsoring terrorism under a deal reached last year.
The US played down Pyongyang's latest step.
"Based on what we know from the reports on the ground, you don't have an effort to reconstruct, reintegrate this equipment back into the facility," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.
US officials have been stationed at the North's Yongbyon complex to monitor the disablement work, along with officials from the UN nuclear watchdog.
Despite the apparent start of restoration work, the North did not go as far as kicking out the international monitors. That may suggest the latest move is only a negotiating tactic meant to pressure Washington to keep its promise to take Pyongyang off the terror list.
The watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency said North Korea had already removed "essential" equipment from its nuclear facilities by the time it decided to stop disabling them last month, suggesting it would take some time to restore its main reactor to an operational state.
South Korean and U.S. officials have said it would take at least a year for the North to restart the facilities after they are completely disabled.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the US wants to keep the disarmament process moving forward.
"We are expecting North Korea to live up to its obligations. And we will most certainly live up to our obligations," she said.
South Korea's chief nuclear negotiator, Kim Sook, plans to head to Beijing on Friday where he is expected to meet his US counterpart, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, to discuss the latest escalation of tension, his office said.
On Thursday, the reclusive North gave no hint of what is going on at Yongbyon and what its intentions are. Its official Korean Central News Agency was filled with stories about preparations to celebrate the 60th anniversary next week of the country's 1948 foundation.
North Korea, which carried out an underground nuclear test blast in October 2006, later agreed with the US and four other countries to disable the plant in Yongbyon, north of the capital Pyongyang. Work began in November last year.
But it then slowed the work to protest a delay in promised aid from its negotiating partners.
There was major progress in June after the North submitted its long-delayed account of its nuclear activities and destroyed its nuclear cooling tower in a show of its commitment to denuclearization.
The US then announced it would take the North off the terrorism blacklist, a coveted goal of the North's cash-strapped regime. But Washington has demanded that North Korea must first agree to a plan to verify an accounting of nuclear programs it submitted in June before it can be taken off the list.
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