SEOUL - South Korea's foreign minister said on Thursday there were no signs that the North was in the final stages of restoring an aging nuclear plant, knocking down a report that operations could soon resume at the facility.
South Korea's Yonhap news agency on Tuesday quoted a government source as saying Pyongyang was in the final stages of restoring the Yongbyon complex, which when fully operational, can produce enough material for one nuclear bomb a year.
What we know is that they are not yet at that kind of stage, Yu Myung-hwan said when asked whether the North was about to restore the five-megawatt nuclear reactor at Yongbyon, which is the secretive state's primary source of weapons-grade plutonium.
In 2007, North Korea began taking apart the Soviet-era facility that includes the reactor, a fuel fabrication plant and a plutonium separation facility under a six-way deal in return for aid and better global standing.
It said earlier this year it had resumed the part of the plant used to separate plutonium from spent nuclear fuel in anger at being punished by the United Nations for a long-range rocket launch widely seen as a disguised missile test.
On Tuesday, Pyongyang signaled it could return to the dormant disarmament-for-aid talks among the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States that Pyongyang had declared dead six months ago.
Yu said that Pyongyang would still be subject to U.N. Security Council sanctions imposed after its nuclear test in May even if it returns to the nuclear disarmament talks.
It is the position of not only South Korea and the United States but also Japan, Russia and China that sanctions cannot be lifted or suspended just because the North returns to dialogue, Yu said.
North Korea's leader Kim Jong-il told Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on a visit to Pyongyang he first wanted talks with Washington. The North sees such talks as key to ending its status as a global pariah that it argues gives it no choice but to have a nuclear arsenal.
Kim's comment came as Wen unveiled a massive package of aid and development projects for the North.
Yu said he did not believe the economic package from China, the North's biggest benefactor, was in violation of the Security Council resolutions.
(Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)