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White House decries North Korea's decision to restart nuclear reactor

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The United States has no plans for military action in response to North Korea's decision to restart a nuclear reactor believed to have been used in past weapons efforts, the Bush administration said Thursday.

Calling the North Korean decision ``regrettable,'' White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the United States continues to seek a peaceful resolution ``to the situation North Korea has created.''

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, speaking to reporters Thursday in Doha, Qatar, called North Korea ``a very strange regime'' but said it was not time to abandon diplomacy.

``I have no idea when any country, including the United States, would make the judgment that the diplomatic effort, which is underway, can't bear fruit,'' Rumsfeld said.

Activity at the Yongbyon reactor was halted by a 1994 agreement under which North Korea was to give up its nuclear weapons program in exchange for two civilian nuclear power plants and fuel oil aid.

The agreement collapsed two months ago when North Korea acknowledged having a secret program to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons. Its efforts at Yongbyon, which the United States says resulted in one or two nuclear bombs, relied on plutonium.

The United States persuaded other countries in a consortium that provided the fuel oil to halt those shipments last month. North Korea said it needs the reactor at Yongbyon to provide electricity for its impoverished people during the winter.

The North Korean announcement followed the seizure and release this week of a ship carrying North Korean Scud missiles to Yemen. North Korea's missile customers have also included Libya, Iran, Syria, Pakistan and Egypt.

It wasn't clear whether the interception influenced the decision, but an editorial in the North's official newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, said: ``It is necessary to heighten vigilance against the U.S. strategy for world supremacy and 'anti-terrorism war.'''

The North Koreans later accused the United States of piracy in seizing the ship.

``This is an unpardonable piracy that wantonly encroached upon the sovereignty of the DPRK,'' an unidentified spokesman for the North Korean Foreign Ministry said in comments reported by the Korean Central News Agency. DPRK stands for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

The White House had no immediate comment on the charge Thursday night.

The missile shipment incident may have further alienated the irascible communist dictatorship and made it harder for the United States to find a diplomatic solution to the problem, experts said.

``It may empower the hard-liners and embolden them to say, 'Look, we told you we couldn't deal with the Americans, the only way to deal with this situation is to strengthen ourselves militarily, and we need nuclear weapons to deter the United States,''' said Daniel Pinkston, a Korea expert at the Monterey Institute for International Studies.

Intercepting the shipment of 15 North Korean-made Scud missiles apparently was an attempt by the Bush administration to turn up the heat on Pyongyang, said Joel Wit, who helped negotiate the 1994 agreement as a State Department official.

``We've kind of made an effort to halt these relationships, but nothing along the lines of intercepting a ship on the high seas,'' said Wit, now an analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
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