PYONGYANG, North Korea, Nov. 4 (UPI) -- North Korea has confirmed that it has completed additional extraction of plutonium for its atomic weapons program, ratcheting up pressure on the United States to begin bilateral talks.
"Noticeable successes have been made in turning the extracted plutonium weapon-grade for the purpose of bolstering up the nuclear deterrent," the Korean Central News Agency reported.
North Korea completed reprocessing 8,000 spent fuel rods at the end of August at its main Yongbyon complex, the agency said.
Kim Jong Il's regime withdrew from multilateral disarmament negotiations in April to protest the U.N. Security Council's condemnation of its firing of a long-range missile over Japan. North Korea detonated its second nuclear device in May, less than three years after its first test in 2006.
Its reprocessing of plutonium for atomic weapons production was strongly criticized by the United States, calling the move a violation of the communist country's own denuclearization commitments and U.N. Security Council resolutions.
Still, Washington stopped short of condemning the process, saying it doesn't want to see tension rising in the region.
"As a matter of principle, reprocessing plutonium is contrary to North Korea's own commitments that it committed to in the 2005 joint statement, and also would be a violation of various U.N. Security Council resolutions," department spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters in Washington on Tuesday. "The way forward is to resume the six-party talks and get back to all sides adhering to the commitments that they undertook in 2005.
"What we're looking for," Kelly added, "is North Korea to take steps to achieve verifiable denuclearization of the Korean peninsula in a peaceful manner."
He was referring to a deal that the North had reached with fellow members of the six-party talks -- South Korea, the United States, Russia, Japan and China -- on Sept. 19, 2005. The North quit the six-party talks in April after the United Nations condemned its long-range rocket launch, and pledged to restart the nuclear program it shut down under a 2007 six-party pact.
The last atomic weapons test was conducted five months ago.
Experts say North Korea's plutonium announcement opts to prod the United States to hold bilateral talks, a move that Kelly said Washington "had not yet decided."
Foreign Policy magazine reported recently that the United States and North Korea had agreed to bilateral talks ahead of a multilateral setting.
The course of those negotiations, Pyongyang has said, will determine the fate of North Korea's return to the six-party talks.
Many analysts suggest that the North is seeking U.S. recognition as a nuclear-armed state, possibly in return for guarantees of non-proliferation. Washington says it will never recognize a nuclear-armed North.