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N. Korea threatening to restart N-program

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SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea on Saturday renewed its threat to restart its nuclear program if Washington does not compensate for the loss of electricity caused by delays in building nuclear power plants in the reclusive communist state.

The United States pledged to provide North Korea with two modern nuclear power plants by 2003 in a 1994 accord meant to freeze the North's nuclear program, suspected of being used to build atomic bombs.

But construction has been delayed by funding problems and tension over the North's long-range missiles. Now officials say a delay of several years is inevitable. The delays mean a huge loss of electricity badly needed to rebuild its devastated economy.

"If the issue of compensation fails to find a smooth solution, the (North) will have no option but to turn out electricity by graphite-moderated reactors depending on its rich natural resources and its own technology," the North's official Korean Central News Agency said.

The North's outdated Soviet-designed, graphite-moderated reactors can be used to extract weapons-grade uranium, a key ingredient for making atomic bombs, experts say.

Also Saturday, a delegation of the U.S.-led Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization, which is building the modern reactors in the North, arrived in the North to discuss the $4.6 billion project, KCNA said.

On Thursday, President Clinton released a $20 million installment in energy aid to North Korea, saying the regime appears to be living up to a commitment to freeze its nuclear weapons program.