UNITED NATIONS – North Korea's deputy foreign minister urged the United States Thursday to provide it with a nuclear reactor as a "simultaneous" step in its disarmament, and said his country would welcome a visit by the chief U.S. arms negotiator.
U.S. officials had downplayed Pyongyang's (search) insistence on reactors soon after an agreement was announced this week at six-party nuclear talks in Beijing in which North Korea pledged to drop its weapons development efforts before the subject of light-water reactors is discussed.
But North Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Choe Su Hon Choe (search) repeated the demand Thursday for the reactor and added that its provision should be part of "simultaneous action" on disarmament.
Choe said he expects that the light-water reactors and compensation to North Korea for dismantling its nuclear reactor be discussed when talks resume in November.
Choe also said North Korea would not impose any conditions on a visit by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill (search), the top American negotiator at the six-party talks.
"If Christopher Hill is willing to visit my country with an intention of resolving the nuclear issue, then we would always welcome him," Choe told a small group of reporters. "There will be no condition if he is willing to come to my country with a view to resolving the nuclear issue and other issues of his concern."
Choe's repeated demand for the reactor Thursday made clear how important the issue is to North Korea.
In his speech to the assembly's ministerial meeting, Choe said, "What is most essential at this stage is for the United States to provide light-water reactors to (North Korea) as soon as possible as evidence proving the former's substantial recognition of the latter's right to peaceful nuclear activities."
Negotiators at the six-party talks agreed to meet again in November, where they are expected to move to concrete discussions on implementing the broad principles outlined in Monday's agreement.
Choe reiterated that North Korea's ultimate goal is the full denuclearization of the Korean peninsula "at any cost," but he said that can happen only after relations are normalized with the United States.
While he pointedly condemned the United States, Choe was far more subdued in his criticism than previous statements out of North Korea.
Choe also confirmed that North Korea informed the United Nations that it wants all humanitarian assistance from the United Nations and other international organizations terminated by the end of the year, partly because of U.S. interference.
He said the humanitarian situation has improved "to a great extent," grain production is expected to increase, and the government can feed the people. But he said another reason for the termination is the attempt by 13 countries, especially the United States, "to politicize the humanitarian assistance" by linking it to human rights in North Korea.
Choe said this constitutes interference in the internal affairs of the country.
The nation of 23 million has received emergency food from the WFP and other international groups since natural disasters and mismanagement caused its economy to collapse in the mid-1990s.
During a meeting Wednesday, Choe said he thanked Secretary-General Kofi Annan (search) for the humanitarian help and told him North Korea now wants development assistance. He said Annan said he would try to provide it.