SEOUL: North Korea’s nuclear complex capable of producing weapons-grade plutonium was shut off from outside monitoring yesterday as the United States warned the impoverished country faced further isolation over its nuclear ambitions.
Two inspectors from the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which has been monitoring North Korea’s nuclear facilities for the past eight years, arrived in Beijing yesterday after being expelled.
North Korea had ordered the inspectors to leave the country amid an escalating nuclear standoff over its plans to revive the mothballed nuclear complex at Yongbyon, 90km north of Pyongyang.
As Pyongyang threw a cloak of secrecy over the nuclear plant, IAEA officials said the inspectors would submit their report on North Korea to the agency’s board on Jan 6.
The inspectors were carrying home the IAEA’s most sensitive documents and equipment used to monitor a freeze on nuclear activities at the complex under a US-North Korean accord signed in 1994.
Their departure deprives the international community of detailed information about the North’s nuclear activities. Daily reports from the inspectors have kept the world abreast in recent days of the North’s nuclear programme.
The removal of UN surveillance in Yongbyon followed North Korea’s threats last Sunday that it could pull out of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
The North’s nuclear brinkmanship triggered an angry response from the United States, which said North Korea would pay “a serious price” in withheld international aid.
“The US warning, however, drew a lukewarm reaponse from South Korea, a close ally since the 1950-53 Korean War, and Russia.
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov issued Moscow’s strongest condemnation yet of the former ally’s nuclear programme. But he insisted sanctions against Pyongyang were premature.
South Korean president-elect Roh Moo-Hyun also reinforced Seoul’s rejection of the US to punish North Korea with economic sanctions.
“It ought to be borne in mind that a failed US policy toward the North would be a matter of life and death for South Koreans while it would not be to US citizens,” Roh said. “Therefore, any US actions (toward the North) must give priority to South Korea’s stance.” – AFP
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