SEOUL, South Korea North Korea escalated its renewed confrontation with the U.S. on Friday, saying it is moving to restore a nuclear reactor and warning it "will go its own way" because Washington refuses to remove it from the U.S. terror blacklist.
The announcement was the communist regime's first confirmation it has started undoing the dismantlement of its nuclear program begun last November under an atomic disarmament deal that promised energy aid to the impoverished nation.
Its threat came amid reports that leader Kim Jong Il suffered a stroke, news that has fueled worries about instability in North Korea.
Analysts noted, however, that Pyongyang has a history of taking a hard line in negotiations to press for further concessions. They said the North didn't appear to be seeking to scuttle six-nation talks since its envoys went ahead with a meeting with South Korean diplomats Friday.
Pyongyang blamed Washington for the turnaround, saying the U.S. refusal to remove North Korea from a list of states that sponsor terrorism violated the agreement by the U.S., the two Koreas, China, Japan and Russia.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters in Washington the North has been "getting closer and closer" to the point where it can restart its Yongbyon reactor. "We would urge them not to get to that point," he said.
Asked why the North should deal with the Bush administration since it is in its final months, McCormack said, "I don't know who the next president, who the next secretary of state is going to be, but I would wager that they're not going to get a much different deal from the next administration."
North Korea's stand focuses on U.S. insistence that Pyongyang accept a plan for international verification of its June report on nuclear facilities. The North rejected the demand as an attempt to unilaterally disarm the country.
"Now that the United States' true colors have been brought to light, we neither wish nor expect to be delisted as a 'state sponsor of terrorism'," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement carried by the country's official news agency, KCNA.
North Korea "will go its own way," it warned.
Eight of 11 key steps toward disabling Yongbyon had been completed, but "work has been under way to restore its nuclear facilities in Yongbyon to their original state since some time ago," the statement said.
Earlier in the day, North Korean diplomat Hyun Hak Bong warned Washington not to press the verification issue.
The detailed, four-page outline of the verification process that Washington seeks calls for a thorough inspection, soil samples, interviews with scientists and possible involvement of the United Nations' nuclear agency.
Notoriously reclusive North Korea objects to having to prove its declaration of nuclear facilities, saying verification was never part of the disarmament-for-aid deal.
"The U.S. is insisting that we accept unilateral demands that had not been agreed upon. They want to go anywhere at any time to collect samples and carry out examinations with measuring equipment," Hyun said. "That means they intend to force an inspection."
Hyun then sat down with South Korean officials to discuss getting energy aid to the North as part of the disarmament deal.
During the meeting, South Korea urged the North to resume disabling its nuclear facilities, but the North repeated its position on verification and the terror list, said a South Korean official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with department policy.
The tactic is not unusual for the North, analysts said.
"This is aimed at pressuring the United States," said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at Seoul's University of North Korean Studies.
Pyongyang does not appear to want to break off the disarmament process, said Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea expert at Seoul's Dongguk University."The North is sending a message that it wants to maintain the six-party talks," he said. "The North also wants to get the remaining energy aid with winter drawing closer."
Associated Press writers Hyung-jin Kim in Panmunjom, South Korea, and Foster Klug in Washington contributed to this report.