North orders international nuclear inspectors to leave

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North orders international nuclear inspectors to leave

North Korea yesterday ordered international nuclear inspectors to remove their surveillance equipment and leave the country.

The move comes a day after the North declared it would resume its nuclear program and consider building its own light-water nuclear reactor in response to the United Nations Security Council statement condemning the country’s April 5 rocket launch.

The North asked inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency to leave the country “at the earliest possible time,” according to an IAEA statement issued early yesterday, Korean time. “The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea [North Korea’s formal name] has today informed IAEA inspectors in the Yongbyon facility that it is immediately ceasing all cooperation with the IAEA,” the statement read, in reference to the North’s main nuclear plant.

“It has requested the removal of all containment and surveillance equipment, following which IAEA inspectors will no longer be provided access to the facility,” the statement continued. “The DPRK also informed the IAEA that it has decided to reactivate all facilities and go ahead with the reprocessing of spent fuel.”

United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the North’s action “an unnecessary response to the legitimate statement” by the Security Council.

“And obviously we hope that there will be an opportunity to discuss this with not only our partners and allies but also eventually with the North Koreans,” Clinton said.

The White House urged the North to stop making “provocative threats.”

“We call on North Korea ... to respect the will of the international community and to honor its international commitments and obligations,” said U.S. presidential spokesman Robert Gibbs. “North Korea’s announced threat to withdraw from the six-party talks and restart its nuclear program is a serious step in the wrong direction.”

The North conducted a nuclear test in 2006 but began dismantling its nuclear plant in exchange for 1 million tons of fuel oil in 2007. The compromise was reached earlier that year under the six-party talks. Then, in a symbolic display of its willingness to continue the denuclearization process, the North in 2008 demolished a cooling tower at its Yongbyon base.

But North Korea halted its disablement process in August 2008. Pyongyang had sent about 18,000 pages of nuclear documentation detailing its past atomic activities to Washington earlier that year but was at odds with the U.S. over how to verify the records.

North Korea has previously walked down the path of brinkmanship.

In December 2002, the North asked the IAEA to remove its seals and surveillance equipment and then expelled IAEA inspectors. That was in response to the U.S. interception of a Yemen-bound North Korean vessel carrying Scud missiles earlier that month. The U.S. was forced to release the ship because, as the White House announced at the time, there was no provision under international law banning Yemen from receiving missiles from North Korea.

In January 2003, the North announced it was withdrawing from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and by the next month it said it had reactivated its nuclear facilities. Two months later, the U.S. and North Korean officials met for direct talks in China, where the North offered to scrap its nuclear program in return for U.S. concessions. In August, the first six-party talks were held.

This time, by announcing it is considering building a light-water reactor, which requires enriched uranium fuel, the North has hinted at development of a uranium enrichment program that could be used to bring the United States to the table.

As the North continued to take a militant stance in response to the Security Council statement, South Korea yesterday delayed making its anticipated announcement that it was joining the Proliferation Security Initiative. Officials in Seoul had previously said the North Korean launch would raise the issue of proliferation and thus give them an opportunity to consider joining the PSI.

The South said late Tuesday that the announcement was coming Wednesday, but Moon Tae-young, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, said yesterday the call will actually be made this weekend. A government official, requesting anonymity, said the South was concerned with the adverse effects its announcement might have on inter-Korean relations. He said Seoul was in consultation with its allies and cabinet ministries, adding there was some fine-tuning left to do.

The PSI, created in 2003 under the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush, is a global regime aimed at curbing transfer of weapons of mass destruction, their means of delivery and other related materials.

North Korea had threatened that if the South joined the PSI, “It would be considered a declaration of war against us and we will take a resolute countermeasure against it.”

By Yoo Jee-ho []

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