(AFP) – Sep 22, 2008
VIENNA (AFP) — North Korea asked the International Atomic Energy Agency on Monday to remove seals and surveillance equipment from a key nuclear facility, the UN nuclear watchdog said Monday, amid a deadlock over a disarmament deal.
The request came three days after North Korea confirmed it was working to restart the Yongbyon reactor and no longer wanted US concessions promised under the landmark agreement in return for its denuclearisation.
IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei told the Vienna-based agency's 35-member board of governors that North Korean officials asked the agency's inspectors earlier Monday to remove the seals and surveillance equipment.
The North Koreans said they wanted to be able to "carry out tests at the reprocessing plant, which they say will not involve nuclear material," ElBaradei said.
Earlier, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported that Pyongyang had removed seals placed by the UN atomic watchdog on its nuclear facilities.
Reacting to the news Monday, US State Department spokesman Robert Wood told reporters at a news briefing that Washington is "very concerned" about North Korea's actions.
"We're very concerned about what the North appears to be doing at the Yongbyon facility," Wood said, adding that the United States was weighing its response.
"I don't want to get into outlining what we may or may not do if North Korea does this or that. What we're going to try to do is lead them back on the path that they agreed to go on, toward denuclearization," he said.
The spokesman added: "We're trying to encourage them through discussions, through our diplomatic activities ... to do what they have committed to doing. The most important and most immediate is providing us with that verification regime."
The six-nation aid-for-disarmament deal is deadlocked by a dispute over verification of the declaration of the North's nuclear programme, which it delivered in June as part of the agreement.
The hardline communist state, which tested an atomic weapon in October 2006, began disabling its aging reactor and other plants at Yongbyon last November under the six-country pact with South Korea, the United States, Japan, China and Russia.
But it announced last month it had halted work in protest at Washington's refusal to drop it from the US blacklist of countries supporting terrorism, as promised under the deal.
Washington says the North must first accept strict outside verification of the nuclear inventory that Pyongyang handed over in June, a condition reiterated Monday by Wood, who said that once Washington is reassured by Pyongyang's actions on the nuclear question, "we can move toward delisting them from the State Department's State Sponsors of Terrorism List."
The reclusive Stalinist regime confirmed Friday that it was working to restart the plutonium-producing reactor.
US President George W. Bush expressed concern to his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao on Sunday over North Korea's plans, said Gordon Johndroe, a White House spokesman.
"The two presidents agreed that they would work hard to convince the North to continue down the path established in the six-party talks toward denuclearisation," said Johndroe.
In his opening address to the week-long IAEA board meeting, ElBaradei said agency inspectors "have observed ... that some equipment previously removed by the DPRK (North Korea) during the disablement process has been brought back."
Nevertheless, "this has not changed the shutdown status of the nuclear facilities at Yongbyon," ElBaradei said.
The IAEA has not been asked to take part in disablement activities, "but has been able to observe and document them," he said.
"I still hope that conditions can be created for the DPRK to return to the Non-Proliferation Treaty at the earliest possible date and for the resumption by the agency of comprehensive safeguards," ElBaradei said.
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