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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / Web Developer

£350 p/d (Contract): Guru Careers: A Software Developer / Web Developer (PHP /...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Social Researcher

£14000 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Financial Controller

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Head Porter / Concierge

£16000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award winning Property Man...

Day In a Page

Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

Tate Sensorium

New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

Remember Ashton Agar?

The No 11 that nearly toppled England
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks