SEOUL—North Korea has ordered U.N. weapons inspectors to leave the country, after Pyongyang said it would drop out of international nuclear disarmament talks and restart a plant that makes bomb-grade plutonium.
The U.N. Security Council on Monday unanimously condemned North Korea's rocket launch on April 5 as contravening a U.N. ban and demanded enforcement of existing sanctions.
The U.N.'s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said North Korea had ordered U.N. inspectors to leave the reclusive communist country, a spokesman said.
North Korea "today informed IAEA inspectors in the Yongbyon facility that it is immediately ceasing all cooperation," IAEA spokesman Marc Vidricaire said in a statement issued in Vienna.
In Washington, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said: "North Korea will not find acceptance by the international community unless it verifiably abandons its pursuit of nuclear weapons."
In its own strongly worded statement, North Korea said the U.N. action and six-country nuclear talks amounted to an infringement of its sovereignty and said it "will never participate in the talks any longer nor... be bound to any agreement."
The statement, carried by the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), also said Pyongyang would “bolster its nuclear deterrent for self-defense in every way,” actively consider building its own light-water nuclear reactor, “revive nuclear facilities, and reprocess used nuclear fuel rods.”
Experts said bilateral talks with the United States might be what North Korea’s leaders are now looking for.
Paik Hak-Soon of the Sejong Institute think tank in South Korea said the situation was now “quite serious.”
“The North thinks it has nothing to lose in this stand-off and it will continue building up its nuclear arsenal,” Agence France-Presse quoted Paik as saying.
Other experts said Pyongyang was seeking to raise international pressure to win maximum concessions, however.
Neighboring China, which is North Korea’s closest ally, said Beijing still wants to achieve a nuclear-free Korean peninsula through dialogue and negotiations.
It called on Pyongyang to return to six-party talks.
Chinese experts described the threats as serious and likely to continue amid heightened political tensions for a few months to come.
Japan and Russia also called for North Korea’s return to the talks, which began in August 2003.
Parties to the talks, which have stalled frequently, include North Korea, South Korea, the United States, Russia, Japan, and China.
China, which usually makes moderate statements regarding the talks, this time joined the U.N. condemnation of Pyongyang’s rocket launch, throwing Beijing’s role into greater uncertainty as it tries to balance foreign policy priorities.
The new U.N. measures, announced in the wake of the rocket launch and drafted by the United States, may cause Beijing to curb trade in a few items but will keep its flow of energy, grains, and other materials that prop up the North’s broken-down economy.
The statement, agreed by the five permanent council members and Japan, ordered a U.N. sanctions committee to begin activating financial sanctions and an arms and limited trade embargo laid down in a resolution passed two-and-a-half years ago.
U.S experts said North Korea could be using its increased missile range to impress its own citizens as much as adversaries and potential weapons buyers abroad, to coincide with the appearance of supreme leader Kim Jong Il at the recent opening of the Supreme People’s Assembly.
Kim, 67, made his first major official appearance since apparently suffering a stroke last August, appearing noticeably thinner and grayer than before.
Legislators approved Kim as chairman of the National Defense Commission, reaffirming his status as North Korea’s top leader in a ceremony that state television described as “a great honor and happiness for our military and people and a great happy event for all Korean people.”
Original reporting by RFA’s Korean service. Director: Francis Huh. Written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.