SEOUL—North Korea has agreed to allow a British diplomat visit the site of a massive explosion that sparked fears the reclusive country had conducted a nuclear test. Pyongyang says the explosion was aimed at demolishing a mountain to make way for a large hydroelectric dam.
Britain’s Foreign Office minister Bill Rammell requested access to the site during a visit to North Korea, the BBC reported Monday. In an unusual concession, North Korea said the British ambassador David Slinn could visit the site to see for himself as early as Tuesday.
Rammell was in Pyongyang for talks with the North Korean Foreign Minister Paek Nam Sun.
“Having asked the vice foreign minister this morning for our ambassador and other ambassadors to be allowed to visit the scene of the explosion I am very pleased the North Koreans have agreed to the request,” Rammell was quoted as saying. “But I pressed the Foreign Minister very strongly and said look, you know, if we want to be properly reassured then you should allow international diplomats to actually go to the area and verify the situation on the ground,” he said.
Paek said he would consider the request, Rammell said.
”If this is genuinely a deliberate detonation as part of a legitimate construction project then the North Koreans have nothing to fear and nothing to hide and should welcome the international community actually verifying the situation for themselves,'' Rammell said.
Washington has downplayed the Sept. 9 explosion Yongjo-ri in Yanggang Province. It occurred on North Korea’s National Day, which stoked fears that the explosion might have been a nuclear test.
Speaking to ABC television on Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell cited “no indication that was a nuclear event of any kind. Exactly what it was, we're not sure.”
The South Korean news agency Yonhap reported that a mammoth explosion in North Korea on Thursday had produced a mushroom cloud more than three kms (two miles) across.
Yonhap said the blast was stronger than an April explosion that killed 160 people and injured some 1,300 at a North Korean railway station when a train carrying oil and chemicals apparently hit power lines.
South Korean and U.S. officials said Sunday that they were trying to ascertain the cause of the huge cloud.
North Korea meanwhile lashed out Monday at South Korea for what it described as spreading lies about the blast, saying Seoul fostered rumors of a nuclear weapons test to divert attention from its own atomic revelations.
“There has been no such accident as explosion in the DPRK recently," said the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), accusing Seoul of a "preposterous smear campaign."
"Probably, plot-breeders might tell such a sheer lie, taken aback by blastings at construction sites of hydro-power stations in the north of Korea,” it said.
South Korea was recently forced to admit that its scientists carried out experiments to produce small amounts of enriched uranium and plutonium, both key ingredients in nuclear bombs.
The South Korean experiments in 1982 and 2000, which Seoul says weren’t a bid to develop weapons, are likely to further complicate six-nation talks aimed at dismantling North Korea's nuclear development.