Seoul, Dec. 22 (Reuters): North Korea, defying world opinion, today said it was removing UN monitoring equipment from a nuclear reactor at the centre of the communist state’s suspected pursuit of nuclear weapons.
Pyongyang’s announcement came after the International Atomic Energy Agency said North Korea had disabled surveillance devices the agency had placed at the five-megawatt Yongbyon research reactor, which the UN believes was used to make plutonium capable of use in warheads. The US, Japan and South Korea urged North Korea to maintain the freeze on its nuclear facilities.
The Bush administration has lumped the reclusive communist state as part of an “axis of evil” with Iraq and Iran for developing weapons of mass destruction and backing terrorism.
The Yongbyon plant had been closed under a 1994 agreement with the US in which North Korea froze its reactors in exchange for shipments of oil and the construction of more proliferation-proof reactors.
The North’s official Korean Central News Agency said it began removing the surveillance devices after the UN nuclear watchdog had not acted on Pyongyang’s demand early this month to take the equipment away to allow the reactor to restart.
“This situation compelled the DPRK (North Korea) to start the work of removing the seals and monitoring cameras from the frozen nuclear facilities for their normal operation to produce electricity,” it said.
North Korea vowed to maintain a hardline stance, accusing the US and Japan of trying to isolate the communist state.
“It is the DPRK’s invariable mode to react to the US imperialists’ hard-line policy with the toughest stand,” the North Korean news agency said. “To take a prudent stand and attitude rather than acting rashly by following the US in the Korean problem is more beneficial to Japan’s existence and security.”
North Korea needed to end the nuclear reactor freeze “because the US unilaterally abandoned its commitment to supply heavy oil in compensation for the loss of electricity”, the news agency said. The US, South Korea, Japan and the European Union moved to halt the oil supplies in response to US revelations of a North Korean nuclear weapons programme using highly enriched uranium.
North Korea’s move came days after South Koreans elected a new President who campaigned against using pressure and sanctions to press Pyongyang to resolve the nuclear crisis. Ruling party President-elect Roh Moo-hyun vowed to continue outgoing President Kim Dae-jung’s “sunshine policy” of aid and dialogue with the North.