N Korea marks Kim's birthday with nuclear row

North Korea yesterday threatened to withdraw from a key nuclear agreement, setting alarms ringing on the eve of national celebrations to mark the birthday of its reclusive leader, Kim Jong Il.

The Stalinist nation is balking at the insistence of the United States that it accept light-water reactors from South Korea, its bitter rival. Under last year's deal with Washington, which appeared to have averted the main international threat of nuclear proliferation, North Korea agreed to scrap reactors which produce large quantities of weapons-grade plutonium in exchange for more modern technology costing some $4bn (£2.5bn). It never accepted South Korea as the supplier, however, an objection that was glossed over at the time but which is now threatening to wreck the whole agreement.

The North Korean foreign ministry said yesterday it had "nothing to lose", adding: "It might be better for us that the agreement is scrapped now in the initial stage than spending time with debate on the infeasible provision of LWRs [light-water reactors]."

The US, Japan and South Korea are forming an international consortium to supply North Korea with light-water reactors, which can less easily be turned to military uses. Britain is among several Western countries that have been asked to join the consortium, but Seoul insists that since it is meeting 70 per cent of the cost, it must be awarded the contract. The South Koreans argue that this would make the two power generation systems compatible after eventual reunification, but Pyongyang is extremely reluctant to allow hundreds of technicians from the south to cross regularly over the demilitarised zone dividing the peninsula.

The stand-off threatens to revive one of the Clinton administration's worst foreign policy problems. Republican right-wingers who criticised the nuclear deal for rewarding North Korean intransigence now control both houses of Congress, and will block any increase in American funding. Nor would South Korean public opinion allow President Kim Young Sam's government to pay for reactors built by any other country.

"The hope must be that Pyongyang will accept South Korean reactors, otherwise I can't see how the nuclear agreement can go ahead," a Western diplomat said yesterday.

But North Korea's determined tugging at one of the principal loose ends in the agreement, just as the country appeared to be emerging from more than half a year of mourning for the fallen Kim Il Sung, indicates that its defiant attitude to the world has not changed under his son.

Although the senior Kim died in the midst of the nuclear negotiations last July, US diplomats say the progress made since then shows that someone - presumably Kim Jong Il - is making decisions in North Korea. But the son has made no more than a handful of appearances The preparations to celebrate his 53rd birthday are being analysed for signs as to when he might emerge fully as his father's successor.

Today is being celebrated as a national holiday in North Korea. Banners and flowers have appeared in cities for the first time since Kim Il Sung's funeral and the regime's propaganda organs have been even more diligent in discovering signs and portents.

The national news agency reported that a "seven-colour luminescent ring" had recently shed "dazzling light" around the sun, while another "bright and deep, silver colour" ring had appeared .around the moon above Kim Jong-Il Peak.

"The Dear Leader", it concluded, "is evidently the Greatest among the Great men, who has descended from Heaven."

Despite this claim of near- divinity for Mr Kim, however, most analysts believe he will not come out from his seclusion yet. If he does not emerge in April, when North Korea has invited thousands of visitors and journalists to one of the biggest sport and cultural festivals in its history, he may wait until the second half of the year, after the anniversary of his father's death.

Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Lewis Hamilton walks back to the pit lane with his Mercedes burning in the background
Formula 1
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con
comic-con 2014
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Bryan had a bracelet given to him by his late father stolen during the raid
A rub on the tummy sprang Casey back to life
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
Tovey says of homeless charity the Pillion Trust : 'If it weren't for them and the park attendant I wouldn't be here today.'
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Employment Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - Senior Employment Solici...

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little