Defiant North Korea said it was restarting its rogue nuclear programme, booting out United Nations inspectors and withdrawing from disarmament talks.
The moves came in an angry reaction to UN Security Council condemnation of its April 5 rocket launch.
Pyongyang ordered UN nuclear inspectors to remove seals and cameras from its Yongbyon nuclear site yesterday and leave the country as quickly as possible, the International Atomic Energy Agency said.
North Korea told the IAEA it was “immediately ceasing all co-operation” and “has decided to reactivate all facilities and go ahead with the reprocessing of spent fuel”, according to a statement from the UN agency.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs condemned the decision, saying the international community would not accept North Korea until it abandoned what Washington called its pursuit of nuclear weapons. The North must “cease its provocative threats”, he said.
Russia also condemned the move and urged its neighbour to rejoin six-nation talks, which have been held since 2003 in an attempt to get Pyongyang to give up its nuclear programme in exchange for aid and other concessions.
Britain’s Foreign Office said the break with the IAEA was “completely unjustified”.
China – Pyongyang’s main ally and the host of the talks – called for calm on all sides.
But despite its defiance, analysts say North Korea, one of the poorest countries in the world, is unlikely to abandon the talks altogether. They suggested North Korea could be trying to draw the US into direct negotiations, which it has long sought.
Hajime Izumi, a North Korea expert at the University of Shizuoka in Japan, said the North Korean reaction was designed to “bring the US to the negotiating table and squeeze maximum concessions from it”.
All 15 members of the UN security council, including China and Russia, agreed earlier to condemn the April 5 launch as a breach of UN resolutions and to tighten sanctions against the regime. The UN statement was weaker than the resolution Japan and the US had pursued.
North Korea claims it launched a communications satellite as part of a peaceful bid to develop its space programme as Kim Jong Il embarked on his third term as leader. The US and others say the launch was an illicit test of the technology used to fire an intercontinental ballistic missile, even one eventually destined for the US
A security council resolution passed in 2006, days after North Korea carried out an underground nuclear test, bans Pyongyang from engaging in any ballistic missile-related activity – including launching rockets that use the same delivery technology as missiles mounted with warheads, Washington and other nations say.
Under a 2007 six-party deal, North Korea agreed to disable its main nuclear complex in Yongbyon north of Pyongyang in return for one million tons of fuel oil and other concessions. In June 2008, North Korea blew up the cooling tower at Yongbyon in a dramatic show of its commitment to denuclearisation.
But disablement came to halt a month later as Pyongyang wrangled with Washington over how to verify its 18,000-page account of past atomic activities. The latest round of talks, in December, failed to push the process forward.
Yesterday North Korea said it would restart nuclear facilities, an apparent reference to its plutonium-producing reactor at Yongbyon. North Korea is already believed to have enough plutonium to produce at least half a dozen atomic bombs.
But David Albright, whose Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security tracks suspected secret proliferators, said restarting a reactor isn’t so simple, and kicking out the inspectors could be posturing.
“It’s the easiest thing North Korea can do to express its anger,” he said.
“You can’t just turn on a reactor in a couple of weeks. They could test a nuclear device, but it would be such an escalation that the parties-that-be internationally would have to respond negatively.
“Kicking out the monitors is something that easily can be reversed and not cause that much harm.”