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Nuclear Deal In Doubt

Saying Washington had not lived up to its end of the deal, North Korea on Wednesday threatened to pull out of a 1994 nuclear agreement with the United States.

The warning comes less than a week after U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said Washington would soon resume talks with North Korea. The prospect of a break in the impasse between the United States and the communist North was a relief to South Korea which has struggled for months to revive the stalled reconciliation process between the two nations.

In 1994 North Korea agreed to freeze its nuclear program. The United States had suspected that it was being used to make nuclear weapons.

In exchange for the freeze, a U.S.-led consortium agreed to build two nuclear reactors to help ease the North's severe energy shortage. While the reactors were being built the consortium would provide heavy fuel oil for power. But funding and contractual problems, as well as increased political tensions, have delayed completion of the project by several years.

"The failure by the U.S. to live up to its obligation… by the year 2003 would possibly drive us to respond to it with abandoning (the) ongoing nuclear freeze," said North Korea's foreign media outlet, KCNA, in a report.

"We cannot sit idle over our loss while maintaining the nuclear freeze," KCNA said.

Last week, while visiting Seoul, Armitage said the U.S. government was finishing a review of North Korean policy and would resume talks with the North "in the near future."

Armitage also said the Bush administration would abide by the 1994 nuclear deal, which has been criticized by some U.S. lawmakers as costly and impractical.

Saying it had complied with U.S. requirements "over 100 percent", North Korea is complaining that "ground work" had yet to begin on the reactors, and that the project might be held up until 2010.

Tensions between the U.S. and North Korea increased after President Bush announced his plans for a new U.S. missile defense earlier this year.

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