South Korea welcomed a UN nuclear watchdog's decision not to refer its past illicit nuclear experiments to the UN Security Council, while North Korea condemned the UN agency's "double standards" yesterday.
North Korea's state-run Central Radio, monitored by all-news South Korean cable channel YTN, accused the UN International Atomic Energy Agency of giving "tacit approval" to South Korea's nuclear ambitions.
North Korea has cited South Korea's nuclear activities as a major reason for its reluctance to rejoin six-nation talks aimed at ending its atomic weapons program.
Three rounds of six-nation talks have taken place in Beijing since last year, but no breakthrough has been reported. A fourth round scheduled for September did not take place because the North refused to attend.
With no resolution in sight, the US, Japan, South Korea and the EU decided Friday to extend for another year a freeze on a project to build two light-water nuclear reactors in North Korea.
The power-generating reactors, worth US$4.6 billion, were promised under a 1994 deal in which North Korea agreed to dismantle its plutonium-producing Russian-model heavy water reactors.
It was first suspended for a year through Dec. 1, 2004, after the US accused North Korea of running a secret uranium-enrichment program in violation of the 1994 deal. The freeze will now be extended until Dec. 1, 2005.
North Korea has already threatened to bring up South Korea's controversial nuclear experiments when the two Koreas, the US, China, Japan and Russia resume six-nation talks on ending the communist state's own nuclear weapons programs.
On Friday, IAEA's board of governors criticized South Korea for conducting plutonium and uranium experiments in 1982 and 2000, but refrained from tougher options, including possible referral to the Security Council.
A statement from the board's Canadian chairwoman Ingrid Hall left open the option of harsher future action, however, saying Seoul would continue to be monitored by the nuclear watchdog. That suggested the Security Council referral remained a possibility if new evidence becomes known linking the country to other activities that contravened the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
"We believe that the IAEA board of governors objectively assessed and appropriately handled the issue of our nuclear experiments," the South Korean Foreign Ministry said in a statement. "We are satisfied that the matter was not reported to the UN Security Council."
South Korea has lobbied allies and the IAEA to prevent a Security Council referral, which could result in sanctions as well as further complicate international efforts to resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis.
Two of the secret South Korean nuclear experiments revealed earlier this year produced minute amounts of weapons-grade uranium and plutonium, but an IAEA report says there was no evidence that they were applied to an arms program.
The chairman's statement said South Korea's actions were a matter of "serious concern" but welcomed "the corrective actions" taken by the government -- cooperation and openness with agency inspectors.