| International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei in Vienna. (AFP)
Vienna, Feb. 12 (Reuters): The governing board of the UN’s nuclear watchdog agency declared North Korea in breach of atomic safeguards today, sending the crisis to the UN Security Council.
The 15-nation Security Council has the power to impose economic sanctions, which Stalinist North Korea has said would amount to a declaration of war. But UN officials have said the Council would try to find a diplomatic solution.
Russia and Cuba abstained in the vote by the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) 35-nation governing board, a diplomat said. Russia has said it was opposed to escalating the affair and preferred quiet diplomacy outside the UN.
The crisis over North Korea’s nuclear ambitions erupted in October when Washington said Pyongyang admitted to pursuing a programme to enrich uranium. This violated a 1994 accord, under which Pyongyang froze its nuclear programme in exchange for two atomic power reactors and economic assistance.
Since December, Pyongyang has expelled IAEA inspectors, withdrawn from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), restarted a mothballed nuclear complex capable of producing weapons-grade plutonium and threatened to resume missile tests. “In my view...the DPRK’s actions constitute further non-compliance with the NPT safeguards agreement,” IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei told the agency’s board in his opening statement.
The term “non-compliance” is a diplomatic codeword which automatically brings the issue to the Security Council.
The IAEA board had until now avoided doing that partly in deference to the US, which has tried to play down the issue as it gears up for a possible war on Iraq. There were 31 votes for the resolution, no votes against and two members absent, IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said.
The resolution said the IAEA “calls upon the DPRK (North Korea) to remedy urgently its non-compliance with its safeguards agreement by taking all steps deemed necessary by the agency.” The resolution also said the board would report North Korea’s breach “to the Security Council and General Assembly”.