South Korea's chief nuclear negotiator urged North Korea on Wednesday to stick to its pledge to give up its atomic ambitions, as Pyongyang resumed a stalled disarmament process following a breakthrough deal with the United States. "North Korea, which has been accused of repeatedly backing out of promises or demanding more than what it should get, can prove its denuclearization commitment only with actions, not with words," envoy Kim Sook said in an article contributed to the mass-circulation Chosun Ilbo newspaper.
The appeal came as Pyongyang resumed steps to disable its Yongbyon nuclear facilities, ending a two-month boycott of a landmark disarmament deal after the United States removed the communist regime from a terrorism blacklist as a reward. On Tuesday, the North allowed UN monitors back onto the nuclear site. A diplomat in Vienna familiar with the International Atomic Energy Agency's work at the site said the agency's 3-member team had resumed monitoring the site on Tuesday, including reapplying seals the North had ordered taken off and remounting IAEA cameras. He demanded anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the issue publicly.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the North had begun taking steps to finish disabling the Yongbyon nuclear complex, north of Pyongyang, under a six-nation disarmament accord reached last year.
"The North Koreans have started the reversal of their reversal," he told reporters, referring to a series of moves by Pyongyang in recent months to restart its nuclear program. Japan's Kyodo News agency quoted chief US nuclear envoy Christopher Hill telling reporters, "There has been a resumption of the disabling activity."
Two months ago, North Korea stopped disabling the Yongbyon nuclear facility in anger over US demands that Pyongyang accept a plan to verify its accounting of nuclear programs as a condition for removal from the terrorism list.
Until late last week, the North had threatened to reactivate the plutonium reprocessing plant at Yongbyon.
But the North and the US reached a compromise on the verification row following a visit to Pyongyang by Hill. Washington announced North Korea's removal from the terrorism sponsors' list on Saturday, saying Pyongyang had agreed to all its nuclear inspection demands.
Pyongyang had earlier told the International Atomic Energy Agency it would restart work to disable the Yongbyon nuclear reactor and allow international inspectors to resume their activity. North Korea also said on Sunday it would restart work to disable Yongbyon, though it did not specify a date.
Seoul's envoy Kim said during a briefing to ruling Grand National Party lawmakers later on Wednesday that it would be difficult to complete the disabling of the North's nuclear facilities by year's end because the process has been delayed, according to GNP spokesman Cha Myung-jin.
North Korea alarmed the world in 2006 by setting off a test nuclear blast. It then agreed to dismantle its nuclear program in exchange for energy aid and other concessions.
The regime began disabling Yongbyon in November and blew up a cooling tower in June. Just steps away from completing the second phase of the three-part process, Pyongyang abruptly reversed course and stopped disabling the plant, until this week.