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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

N. Korea Demands Civilian Reactors

SEOUL, South Korea / BEIJING -- North Korea jeopardized a six-country deal on giving up its nuclear arms just one day after it was struck, by vowing on Tuesday to keep the weapons until Washington provides civilian atomic reactors.

The U.S. State Department said the North's views, set out in a long statement, did not match the agreement signed in Beijing.

China asked all sides to fulfill their promises. Seoul said it would take the lead role in bridging the gap between the U.S. and North Korean views. Japan saw a possible negotiating ploy.

"We must watch North Korea closely to see if there is really a fundamental difference on [this] point," Japanese chief Cabinet spokesman Hiroyuki Hosoda told reporters. "If we are completely at odds, that will mean going back to the beginning. But we do not believe that is the case."

The six countries, including Russia, had agreed on Monday to a set of principles on winding up Pyongyang's nuclear programs in return for aid and recognition of its right to a civilian nuclear program. The six agreed to discuss providing a light-water reactor "at an appropriate time."

Analysts noted that the North had backtracked on seemingly rock-solid positions before, and so the deal was not yet dead.

"They've chosen the appropriate time to discuss it as now," said Peter Hayes, a North Korea expert at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. "I think what they're doing is negotiating. They're putting out a maximal position."

The North's Foreign Ministry statement could be mostly aimed at its own people, said Toshimitsu Shigemura, a professor at Waseda University in Tokyo and an expert on North Korea.

While official reaction to the end of the fourth round of talks had been upbeat, skeptics had already said the deal was long on words, vague on timing and sequence and short on action.

The North's comments exposed those shortcomings. "The U.S. should not even dream of the issue of [North Korea's] dismantlement of its nuclear deterrent before providing [light-water reactors]," said the statement, published by the KCNA news agency. "This is our just and consistent stand as solid as a deeply rooted rock."

As the North has given ground before, its statement may not be the last word. After the first round in August 2003, it said just a day after the talks that it saw no need for more.

"It could be a lot of bluster," said one U.S. official in Washington. But Tuesday's statement posed at least a challenge to a deal that delegates had applauded less than 24 hours earlier.

"This was obviously not the agreement they signed and we will see what the coming weeks bring," said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, referring to the gap before talks are set to resume in November. Japan took the same view.

Seoul said the North's overall comments were no surprise.

"North Korea and the United States may pull and push over the wording of 'appropriate time' but the South Korean government's role is to mediate," South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun's spokesman quoted him as saying. Roh said the deal should open the gates to more economic aid to the impoverished North.