North Korea officials have “informed the IAEA
inspectors that they plan to introduce nuclear material to the reprocessing
plant in one week’s time,” said a statement citing Mohamed ElBaradei, the
chief of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, according to the
Pyongyang ordered the removal of the U.N. seals and
surveillance equipment from the Yongbyon reactor — a key facility that can
produce weapons-grade plutonium and provided the materials for the North to
conduct a test explosion two years ago.
“There are no more seals and surveillance equipment in
place at the (plutonium) reprocessing facility,” IAEA spokeswoman Melissa
Fleming said, referring to the most closely watched installation at Yongbyon,
ElBaradei also said the North Koreans barred the IAEA
inspectors from further access to the plant.
A U.N. official who spoke on condition of anonymity told the
AP Wednesday that other nuclear sites in North Korea remained under IAEA
purview. She also said agency seals remained on the spent fuel rods that were
removed from Yongbyon under the terms of the 2007 deal.
The new moves come amid concerns over the health of leader
Kim Jong Il. Kim’s absence at North Korean military parades in early September intensified
media speculation that the leader may have suffered a stroke or other serious
The nuclear reversal sparked new worries about viability of
a landmark agreement won by international negotiators last year to bring the
North out of its confrontational isolation with most of the world and put an
end to its controversial nuclear program.
The landmark 2007 disarmament pact — made with the United
States, China, South Korea, Russia and Japan — called on Pyongyang to give up
and disable its nuclear program in exchange for energy aid and other diplomatic
The accord stalled in mid-August when the U.S. refused to
remove North Korea from its list of states that sponsor terrorism until the
North accepted a plan to fully verify a declaration of its nuclear programs
that it submitted earlier.
On Sept. 19, North Korea said it had stopped disabling its
nuclear reactor in Yongbyon and that it no longer wants to be taken off a U.S.
list of states that sponsor terrorism.
“We are making thorough preparations to restart”
the facility, North Korean diplomat Hyun Hak Bong told reporters at the time.
Nuclear analysts have said North Korea would need several
months at least to bring the installation back to full operations.
Scientists began disabling the Yongbyon reactor in November,
and in June blew up its cooling tower in a dramatic show of its commitment to
the pact. Eight of the 11 steps needed to disable the reactor were completed by
July, North Korean officials said.
White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said the North Korean actions “are very
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Wednesday that
North Korea’s actions to reactivate its nuclear plant did not mean an end to the
six-party nuclear talks, but deepened Pyongyang’s isolation.
“By no means,” Rice told reporters in New York.
“Everyone knows what the path ahead is, the path ahead is to have
agreement on the verification protocol. The North Koreans know that,” she
said, according to Reuters.