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Friday, April 29, 2005

International News Article | Reuters.com

International News Article | Reuters.com: By Jon Herskovitz

SEOUL (Reuters) - The United States believes North Korea may be trying to harvest material for a nuclear bomb from a shut-down reactor, the chief U.S. negotiator to stalled nuclear talks said on Friday, adding that this would be "problematic."

"The plutonium reactor at Yongbyon has not been running going on three weeks," said Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill. "There could be an effort to reprocess (nuclear material)."

Hill told reporters after meeting South Korean officials that the reactor shutdown and the possibility of a North Korean nuclear test were of great concern to powers trying through six-way talks to coax Pyongyang into giving up its atomic programs.

"To go ahead and have a nuclear test at a time the six-party talks are in abeyance I think would be very troubling for the talks," Hill said.

"Efforts to harvest plutonium at a time the North Korean side is simply boycotting the talks would also be very problematic for the talks," he said.

Patience in Washington on the nuclear issue is wearing thin, but Hill told a news conference: "We are not abandoning the six-party process."

Proliferation experts say the North may have already harvested enough fissile material to produce six to eight plutonium bombs.

Earlier this month, U.S. newspapers reported that North Korea had stepped up activity at a site Washington believes can be used for an underground atomic test.

WEIGHING OPTIONS

In Washington on Thursday, the head of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency told a Senate committee that North Korea had the ability to mount a nuclear device on a long-range missile and that the communist state could hit U.S. territory.

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