UN, US Nuclear Experts Quit N. Korea

SEOUL ~ US and UN nuclear monitors left North Korea on Thursday after the communist state ordered them out and announced plans to restart production of weapons-grade plutonium.

Inspectors from the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have switched off surveillance cameras and removed their seals from the Yongbyon complex, a diplomat close to the IAEA said.

The complex produced enough plutonium for a 2006 nuclear test and for several other bombs until it was shut down in 2007 under a six-nation disarmament deal.

The North, angry at UN censure of its rocket launch this month, announced on Tuesday it was scrapping the deal and would build up its nuclear deterrent.

“Inspectors have removed seals and turned surveillance cameras to the wall,” the diplomat said on Wednesday on condition of anonymity, adding that the inspectors would leave the country on Thursday.

The State Department said a four-person US team was also packing its bags.

“It’s a step backward. We’re obviously concerned about this,” spokesman Robert Wood said Wednesday. “They (North Korea) just bring upon themselves further isolation from the international community.”

Wood said the United States would speak with other nations in the talks – China, Japan, South Korea and Russia – about the next step.

North Korea has previously threatened to quit the talks, which began in 2003 and several times came close to collapse.

But its Tuesday statement announced it would “never” take part in such talks again and was no longer bound by any six-party agreements.

Pyongyang appears to be pushing instead for bilateral talks with the United States, analysts say.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the United States and its negotiating partners were “anxious for the North Koreans to come back to the table.”

An apparently unfazed North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il watched a fireworks display on Wednesday marking the anniversary of the birth of his late father and founding president Kim Il-Sung.

He “warmly greeted” the cheering crowd that gathered along the Taedong River in Pyongyang to mark what the hardline communist state terms the “Day of the Sun,” official media said.

State media has trumpeted Kim’s “incomparable courage and boldness” in going ahead with the much-criticized April 5 rocket launch, which Pyongyang says was staged to put a peaceful satellite into orbit.

The United States and its allies say the launch was a disguised missile test. The Security Council in a statement on Monday condemned the launch as violating a resolution passed after the North’s 2006 missile and nuclear tests.

It vowed tougher enforcement of sanctions contained in the 2006 resolution.

The United States and Japan submitted on Wednesday lists of North Korean entities targeted for sanctions, according to the Turkish diplomat chairing the first meeting of the Security Council’s sanctions panel.

Diplomats said the US side submitted a list of 11 North Korean entities involved in banned missile-related activities, while Japan put forward a list of at least 15 entities.

South Korea, apparently mindful of increasing tensions, delayed a widely expected announcement that it would join a US-led initiative to seize international shipments of weapons of mass destruction such as missiles.

North Korea has said any decision by Seoul to join the Proliferation Security Initiative would be seen as a declaration of war.

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