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A senior North Korean diplomat told reporters on Friday that preparations
A senior North Korean diplomat told reporters on Friday that preparations are underway to re-start the country's nuclear reactor, due to failure by the U.S. to fulfill its side of a denuclearization deal.

"We're thoroughly preparing to restart the Yongbyon reactor," South Korean news agency Yonhap quoted Foreign Ministry official Hyon Hak-bong as saying at the border truce village of Panmunjom.

When asked by a reporter whether Pyongyang would actually restart the facility, he said: "You'll come to know soon."

Hyon's statement came just before the start of talks with South Korea on the provision of energy aid to the impoverished North. South Korea says its neighbor has so far received around half of the 1 million metric tons of fuel aid it was promised in exchange for denuclearization under a 2007 six-nation deal.

Under the agreement reached between the two Koreas, Russia, the U.S., China and Japan, North Korea agreed to disable the Yongbyon complex, which had produced weapons-grade plutonium. Deconstruction work began last November.

The U.S. had pledged in turn to remove North Korea from its blacklist of states sponsoring terrorism, which keeps the country in financial isolation. However, Washington has since said that this cannot be done until North Korea allows international inspectors to check North Korean facilities, a demand that has met with an angry response from Pyongyang.

"The U.S. is gravely mistaken if it thinks it can make a house search [in North Korea] whenever it pleases just as it did in Iraq," the North Korean Foreign Ministry earlier said in a statement released by the state-run Korean Central News Agency.

North Korea had announced a halt to dismantlement work at Yongbyon in August. Yonhap has cited diplomatic sources as saying the country began reassembling parts of the facility on September 3.

The North Korean official said the deconstruction process had been 90% complete, but that the country can restore the reactor.

He also rejected recent reports that the reclusive leader Kim Jong-il, 66, had suffered a stroke.

"This is sophism by evil people who want to break up unity between the two Koreas," he said.

Concern over Kim's health arose when he failed to appear on September 9 at a military parade in Pyongyang marking the 60th anniversary of the secretive communist country. Kim's illness sparked widespread rumors of a possible leadership change.

Kim Jong-il has ruled North Korea since 1994, when he succeeded his late father Kim Il-sung, the communist state's founder.


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