BEIJING – North Korea has warned that it will reconsider its moratorium on missile tests if the Bush administration doesn't resume contacts aimed at normalizing relations, a U.S. researcher who visited the North said Wednesday.
Officials also said North Korea will restart its nuclear program unless Washington makes progress on supplying two reactors promised in a 1994 agreement, said Selig S. Harrison, a senior fellow of the Century Foundation in Washington.
Harrison said the North's leaders are eager for ties with Washington but dismayed at President Bush's review of policy toward them and view recent U.S. gestures as confrontational.
North Korea announced a moratorium in September, 1999, on missile tests that had unsettled South Korea, Japan and the United States. North Korean leader Kim Jong Il told a visiting European Union delegation last month that the moratorium would be extended to 2003.
But Harrison said Foreign Minister Paek Nam Soon told him that commitment was meant to be part of a diplomatic process leading to normalized relations with the United States. The two governments, whose troops fought each other in the 1950-53 Korean War, have no diplomatic ties.
``We will take a fresh look at the whole missile issue in light of the attitude of the new administration and whether it continues to make offensive statements hostile to us,'' Harrison quoted Paek as saying.
Harrison, who has visited North Korea seven times since 1972, said he talked with Paek for three hours and met with three other top officials. He spent five hours with Gen. Ri Chan Bok, the North Korean representative at Panmunjom, the border village used for contacts with South Korea.
After his inauguration in January, Bush suspended talks with North Korea on curbing its missile program, pending a review of U.S. policy.
Washington warned Monday that renewed missile tests would block progress toward normal relations. The impoverished North depends on outside aid to feed its 22 million people, and says missile exports are a vital source of revenue.
Harrison said none of the North Korean officials threatened a resumption of missile tests.
But he said they were unhappy that Bush hasn't followed up initiatives by the Clinton administration that led to a meeting in Pyongyang in October by then Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Kim, the North's leader.
North Korea broke off talks with the South after U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell in March described Kim as a dictator and said the North was a threat to its neighbors. The North says contacts won't resume until Washington finishes its policy review.
Harrison said the Bush administration's reluctance was hurting North Korean officials who favor opening up the intensely secretive Stalinist regime and forming ties with the United States.
``The Bush administration's posture toward North Korea has given a new lease on life to the hard-liners,'' he said. ``Now Kim Jong Il is on the defensive.''
Harrison said a positive first step could be a reaffirmation by Powell of a joint communique issued by Albright and North Korean officials during her October visit that the two countries have ``no hostile intent'' toward each other.
North Korean officials were especially upset about what they called American delays in supplying two nuclear reactors promised when the North agreed in 1994 to suspend its own nuclear program, Harrison said.
Harrison said the North Koreans accused Washington of reneging on a 1994 promise to supply energy if they stopped work on building a reactor capable of producing plutonium, the fuel for nuclear weapons.
Bush says he wants ``complete verification'' that North Korea is complying before taking more steps.
Little work has been done on the power plants, though the two sides had agreed on a target date of 2003 for their completion.
Harrison quoted Paek, the foreign minister, as saying, ``If the U.S. fails to fulfill its agreements and continues to demand inspections ... it will mean that you are breaking the agreed framework, and we will reopen the reactor that was frozen under the 1994 agreement.''
Paek said North Korea also would start work on two additional reactors, according to Harrison.
The North Korean news agency KCNA reported the same message Wednesday, saying it was the country's ``deserved right and option'' to resume construction of graphite-moderated reactors — which U.S. officials suspected were used to produce weapons-grade plutonium — unless it receives compensation.
``We do not feel any need to abide by the agreed framework allowing its (the North's) right to existence to be infringed upon,'' KCNA said.
Harrison said Gen. Ri also told him the North's military might reconsider its stance on its need for nuclear weapons.
``I don't believe there's anybody who has decided we need nuclear weapons at present, but everybody is thinking in that direction in light of the new administration's attitude,'' Harrison quoted the general as saying.