Seoul, Jan. 10 (Reuters): North Korea withdrew from the global treaty to prevent the spread of atomic weapons today, again raising the stakes in the crisis over its nuclear intentions.
The announcement by the reclusive Communist state sparked alarm and condemnation worldwide, but Pyongyang said it had no intention of developing nuclear weapons and two of its diplomats were holding talks with Washington’s former UN ambassador.
It also offered Washington a way out of the standoff.
South Korea, technically still at war with the North, said the withdrawal was “a serious threat to peace” and urged Pyongyang to reverse the decision.
US undersecretary of state for arms control and international security John Bolton said the North Korean move came as no surprise. “This is not at all unexpected. The North Koreans were not adhering to the treaty when they were still a part of it,” Bolton said in Thailand.
North Korea, which Washington has bracketed with Iraq and Iran in an “axis of evil”, announced it was pulling out of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in a statement carried by its Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
Accusing the US of seeking to topple its political system, North Korea also denounced the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as an American stooge and rejected the UN nuclear watchdog’s call to re-admit expelled inspectors.
“The government... today declared its withdrawal from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and its total freedom from the binding force of the safeguards accord with the International Atomic Energy Agency,” KCNA said.
South Korea, which will be on the front line of any possible nuclear adventurism by the North, was most concerned.
“The government strongly warns of the danger of this move and calls on North Korea to repeal immediately its NPT withdrawal declaration and resolve this issue through dialogue,” the foreign ministry said after a meeting of the National Security Council.
Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, visiting Russia, demanded that North Korea reverse its decision. Moscow, one of North Korea’s few remaining friends, also voiced alarm.
Australia said it would send a delegation to Pyongyang next week. France said the UN Security Council should take a view.
China, North Korea’s closest ally, expressed concern about Pyongyang’s move but stopped short of demanding its neighbour reverse the decision. Beijing, however, pledged to promote a peaceful resolution to the crisis. The yen fell to a three-and-a-half-year low against the euro. South Korean and Japanese stocks fell and the won slipped against the US dollar.
“Though we pull out of the NPT, we have no intention to produce nuclear weapons and our nuclear activities at this stage will be confined only to peaceful purposes such as the production of electricity.” the north’s statement said.
“If the US drops its hostile policy to stifle the DPRK and stops its nuclear threat to the DPRK, the DPRK may prove through a separate verification between the DPRK and the US that it does not make any nuclear weapon,” it added.
KCNA, quoting the north’s Rodong Sinmun newspaper, said the north’s army and people were “heightening their vigilance against the reckless military and political moves of the US warmongers...and taking a combat posture.”
In New Mexico, former UN ambassador Bill Richardson — now the state’s governor — held two hours of talks with the two New York-based North Koreans late yesterday. That is the only contact Pyongyang has with any US official at this time.
“The talks were cordial and candid,” Richardson spokesman Billy Sparks said in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Richardson, a Democrat, has a history of negotiation with the North Koreans.