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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Wright has won The Apprentice 2014
tvThe Apprentice 2014 final
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor winner Ben Haenow has scored his first Christmas number one
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executives - Outbound & Inbound

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Recruitment Genius: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick