Seoul, Dec. 31 (Reuters): Expelled UN inspectors left North Korea today after the Communist state set alarm bells ringing by ending independent monitoring of its nuclear programme.
A senior North Korean envoy added a new dimension to the crisis when he said Pyongyang was unable to meet its obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty because of nuclear threats by Washington.
In the South Korean capital, Seoul, which is within range of the North’s artillery, thousands braved the New Year Eve cold to chant slogans and songs by candlelight in a protest against the US, which has been the nation’s top ally against the North since 1950.
The UN inspectors, who flew to China, were told to leave on Friday after North Korea started reviving a mothballed complex capable of producing plutonium for nuclear weapons.
But US efforts to ensure a coordinated diplomatic riposte have drawn a mixed response, with South Korea and Russia taking issue with Washington’s handling of their neighbour.
The inspectors, a Chinese woman and a Lebanese man working for the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), declined to comment on the diplomatic standoff.
“We have some job to do and we need to contact headquarters,” the man, who declined to give his name, said on arrival in the Chinese capital, Beijing. He said he was heading for Vienna.
The IAEA, the UN’s nuclear watchdog, said the inspectors would submit a report to the agency’s board on January 6.
North Korea, which has disabled UN monitoring devices at the nuclear complex at Yongbyon, is demanding direct talks with Washington to defuse the crisis.
Washington, which has branded North Korea part of an “axis of evil” with Iraq and Iran, says the North must halt its nuclear programme and respect a 1994 non-proliferation agreement that ended an earlier crisis.