North Korea has ordered UN inspectors to leave the country, apparently following through on a decision to restart its nuclear weapons program despite US criticism of “provocative threats.”
Pyongyang announced on Tuesday it would never again take part in six-nation nuclear disarmament talks and would restore the plants at Yongbyon which produced weapons-grade plutonium.
It was responding angrily to a UN Security Council statement on Monday that condemned North Korea’s April 5 rocket launch and vowed tougher enforcement of existing missile-related sanctions.
Hours after the announcement, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said its inspectors had been ordered out.
North Korea “informed IAEA inspectors in the Yongbyon facility that it is immediately ceasing all cooperation with the IAEA,” said Marc Vidricaire, spokesman for the UN nuclear watchdog.
“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 inspectors have also been asked to leave the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] at the earliest possible time,” he said.
They were overseeing the disabling of the Yongbyon plants as part of a February 2007 six-nation deal that Pyongyang says it will no longer observe.
The six-nation forum, which has been working since 2003, groups the two Koreas, the US, China, Russia and Japan.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the inspectors’ expulsion an “unnecessary response” to a legitimate Security Council statement.
“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,” she said.
Seoul analysts said North Korea was serious in its threats and the US may have to offer direct talks to woo it back.
Still, US President Barack Obama’s spokesman, Robert Gibbs, said North Korea was making a serious mistake.
“We call on North Korea to cease its provocative threats and to respect the will of the international community and to honor its international commitments and obligations,” Gibbs said.
“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,” he said.
Meanwhile, Seoul said yesterday it will soon announce plans to curtail North Korea’s suspected trade in illicit weapons.
South Korea is poised to reveal in the next few days that it would join US-led interception of shipments suspected of carrying parts or equipment for weapons of mass destruction.