U.N. agency says Pyongyang has barred access to facility by inspectors
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 12:17 p.m. ET, Thurs., Oct. 9, 2008
VIENNA, Austria – North Korea announced Thursday that it is preparing to restart the facility that produced its atomic bomb, clearly indicating that it plans to completely pull out of an international deal to end its nuclear program.
Pyongyang told the International Atomic Energy Agency that it was stopping the process of disabling its main nuclear site and barring international inspectors from the Yongbyon facility, the agency said.
North Korea “informed IAEA inspectors that effective immediately access to facilities at Yongbyon would no longer be permitted,” the U.N. nuclear watchdog said.
North Korea “also stated that it has stopped its (nuclear) disablement work,” its statement said.
“Also, since it is preparing to restart the facilities at Yongbyon, the DPRK has informed the IAEA that our monitoring activities would no longer be appropriate,” the statement said, referring to the north by its formal acronym.
Staff barred from site
But the statement said the IAEA’s small inspection team would remain on the site until told otherwise by North Korean authorities.
Pyongyang already barred agency personnel from its plutonium reprocessing facility at Yongbyon last month after telling them to remove IAEA seals from the plant in a reversal of its pledge to disable its nuclear program in return for diplomatic concessions and offers of energy aid.
But Thursday’s statement was the clearest indication to date that the North planned to abrogate the deal, said a senior diplomat linked to the IAEA who demanded anonymity because he was not authorized to comment to the media.
The North was to eventually dismantle the complex in return for diplomatic concessions and energy aid equivalent to 1 million tons of oil under a February 2007 deal with the U.S., South Korea, China, Russia and Japan.
The White House responds
But the accord hit a bump in mid-August when the U.S. refused to remove North Korea from its list of states that sponsor terrorism until the North accepts a plan for verifying a list of nuclear assets that the Pyongyang regime submitted to its negotiating partners earlier.
The White House issued a statement early Thursday, calling any steps to bar nuclear monitors in North Korea “regrettable” and saying it expects all parties to abide by the six-party obligations on the issue.
“Let’s just wait and see over the next several days,” U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters in Washington when asked about North Korea’s announcement. “We’re reviewing the situation and I am talking to my colleagues and when we have an announcement, we’ll have an announcement.”