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U.S. says North Korea not made Yongbyon operational

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States said on Friday that North Korea had not yet made its Yongbyon plant operational despite threats and urged Pyongyang to agree to a mechanism to verify its nuclear claims.

“They have not got to that point yet. We would urge them not to get to that point,” said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack when asked about North Korea’s statement that it was working on starting its Soviet-era nuclear Yongbyon plant.

“They continue to move to the right, to get closer and closer to that point where they are operationalizing Yongbyon again,” he added.

North Korea said on Friday it was working on restarting its nuclear plant and also dismissed the prospect of being removed from a U.S. terrorism blacklist in return for a disarmament deal.

Yongbyon makes bomb-grade plutonium and was being taken apart under a much-delayed disarmament-for-aid deal it reached with five regional powers, including Washington.

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McCormack said North Korea had a choice between isolation or reaping the benefits of cooperation.

“They can go down the pathway of having a different kind of relationship with the rest of the world, receiving the benefits of that relationship or they can keep themselves isolated and move the process backwards,” he said.

“We will see. I don’t think we are at the point yet of their having fully reversed what they have done but they have continued to move in that direction. We are going to remain engaged with the North Koreans,” he added.

Last month, North Korea said it planned to restart Yongbyon because it was angry at Washington for not taking it off its terrorism blacklist. In early September, it made minor but initial moves to restart the plant, U.S. officials said.

Washington has made clear it will only remove Pyongyang from its list of state sponsors of terrorism once Pyongyang has agreed on a mechanism to verify claims made about its nuclear arms production.

McCormack urged Pyongyang to agree to the long-delayed verification mechanism.

“We urge them to get to the point where they approve that verification regime,” he said.

Reporting by Sue Pleming; Editing by Kristin Roberts