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North Korea denies alleged uranium enrichment program

North Korea denies alleged uranium enrichment program

North Korea has again denied it has a uranium enrichment program, a South Korean official said Sunday, just days before Pyongyang's year-end deadline to declare its nuclear programs.
The U.S. accused North Korea in late 2002 of seeking to secretly enrich uranium in violation of an earlier nuclear disarmament deal, an accusation that sparked the latest nuclear standoff. The North has consistently denied it has such a program, which it would need to include in the nuclear declaration.
"The North maintains its previous stance over (the uranium enrichment program)," the Foreign Ministry official said after a Friday meeting in Seoul with Sung Kim, the U.S. State Department's top Korea expert who visited North Korea last week. The official asked not to be identified, citing policy.
North Korea has pledged to declare all its nuclear programs by year's end under an international disarmament agreement. In exchange, Washington and regional partners promised Pyongyang energy aid and political concessions, including its removal from a U.S. terrorism blacklist.
U.S. and South Korean officials have indicated North Korea will probably not meet the year-end deadline for a complete declaration of its nuclear programs.
Complicating the process was a recent news report quoting U.S. scientists who said they found uranium traces on aluminum tubes in North Korea _ materials that could be used in the process of converting hot uranium gas into fuel for nuclear weapons. The North said the tubes were not for use in uranium enrichment _ a claim the Washington Post report decries.
In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would not comment on the news report.
The South Korean Foreign Ministry said Sunday working-level officials from the two Koreas and China would meet in Pyongyang for three days beginning Tuesday to discuss the issue of energy-related equipment aid under the international disarmament deal.
The North was promised aid equivalent to 1 million tons of heavy fuel oil. The North has requested that half of the aid be given in heavy fuel oil and the other half in energy-related equipment _ mostly steel products for renovating its outdated power plants.
Separately, North Korea's top military official accused the U.S. of hostility.
"The U.S. is talking about 'dialogue' and 'negotiation' but it is actually scheming to 'destabilize' the (North's ) system ... while resorting to the moves to invade," Kim Kyok Sik, chief of staff of the North Korean military, said in Pyongyang, according to the North's official Korean Central News Agency.
"If the hostile forces refuse to stop the large-scale war exercises and huge arms buildup, we will resolutely counter such actions with more powerful means," said Kim without elaboration.