The head of the UN atomic watchdog said yesterday that nearly two decades of efforts to end North Korea’s nuclear drive had been mismanaged, but insisted diplomacy remained the only option.
Mohamed ElBaradei, who chairs the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), also said that UN condemnation of North Korea’s recent rocket launch may have been a wrong move.
Speaking to reporters in Beijing at an IAEA-organized conference, ElBaradei said international efforts on North Korea dating from 1992 had seen “a history of setbacks.”
“So we are obviously doing a lot of mismanaging of that front and … the recent developments have been another setback,” he said.
ElBaradei had been asked to comment on the latest hitch to the North Korean disarmament drive, which has centered around six-nation talks involving the two Koreas, the US, Japan, Russia and host China.
Pyongyang said last week it would restart its nuclear programs and abandon the talks to protest a statement from the UN Security Council condemning its April 5 rocket launch.
Pyongyang said the rocket put a satellite into orbit, but the United States and its allies believe it was a long-range missile test.
The Security Council’s statement condemned the launch as violating a UN resolution passed after North Korea’s 2006 missile and nuclear tests.
Infuriated by the UN’s actions, North Korea expelled US and IAEA inspectors who had been monitoring its stated efforts to dismantle its nuclear programs.
“The only way to resolve these issues is not in flexing muscles and not necessarily in going to the Security Council, but to try to address the root causes and engage in direct dialogue,” ElBaradei said.
Stepping up the rhetoric, the North Korean military warned on Saturday it would “opt for increasing the nation’s defense capability, including nuclear deterrent in every way.”
It restated that North Korea was no longer bound by a six-nation agreement struck in 2007 in which it pledged nuclear disarmament in exchange for energy aid and other incentives.
Nevertheless, ElBaradai expressed optimism that parties involved in those talks would keep their cool and that negotiations would resume soon.
“I am optimistic about the [six-party] approach. The approach is not to go for confrontation but to try to find common ground for working together,” he said.
“Maybe we will have to go through a period of confrontation, if you like, but I hope that will be short and I hope that the six-party [talks] will be resumed and the IAEA can return,” he said.
The six-nation talks began in 2003 following the collapse of a 1994 deal between the US and North Korea. That 1994 agreement saw North Korea agree to give up its nuclear ambitions in return for the building of two safer light water nuclear power reactors and oil shipments from the US.
ElBaradei was speaking to reporters at the start of a three-day conference gathering energy ministers or other representatives from more than 60 countries to discuss the future of nuclear power.
In earlier remarks opening the conference, he warned of the potential for further North Korea-style problems as more nations seek nuclear energy capabilities.
He said more than 60 countries were considering going nuclear amid an energy crunch and global warming concerns, adding to the 30 countries with existing programs.