North Korea in nuclear U-turn
North Korea said on Sunday it would resume dismantling its nuclear weapons programme, hours after the United States removed it from the list of states that sponsor terrorism.
In a sudden change of course that has raised hopes that it will abandon its nuclear ambitions, North Korea has agreed to allow officials from the US and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to resume inspections of its Yongbyon nuclear facilities.
“We welcome the US’s decision to honour its commitment to remove us from the list of state sponsors of terrorism,” the country’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement carried by the Korean Central News Agency. “We have decided to resume the disabling of nuclear facilities in Yongbyon and to allow US and IAEA monitors to carry out their work again.”
The revival of the 2007 inspections agreement, which North Korea suspended in August after Washington postponed a decision on delisting, will entitle the North to oil aid and see the lifting of several trade and financial sanctions.
The US said Pyongyang had agreed to key conditions for delisting, such as permitting detailed inspections of its nuclear sites and allowing US monitors to investigate denials that the secretive state had transferred weapons technology and enriched uranium.
While South Korea welcomed the breakthrough, Japan denounced Washington’s concession as “extremely regrettable”.
Japan, which considers itself a prime target for North Korean conventional and nuclear missiles, has been urging the US to stand firm until Pyongyang satisfactorily accounts for 13 Japanese citizens it abducted during the Cold War.
Five of the abductees returned in 2003, but Japan has never accepted North Korean claims that the remaining eight died, several in bizarre accidents.
“This is very disappointing,” Shoichi Nakagawa, the Finance Minister, said. “I consider kidnapping to be a form of terrorism. As to whether there were full discussions with Japan, as an ally, before the removal, I don’t think that was the case, which is very regrettable.”
But the Japanese Prime Minister, Taro Aso, said the abductees would remain high on the agenda at the next round of six-party talks on the North’s nuclear programme.
“When the six-party talks continue to move forward, in the process of the negotiations we will have ample opportunity to discuss the kidnappings,” he said. “We have not lost any leverage.”
Under the agreement, US inspectors would also have access, by mutual consent, to undeclared nuclear sites, as well as to Yongbyon, a Soviet-era facility capable of producing weapons-grade plutonium.
North Korea warned it would start dismantling the Yongbyon plant only after it was satisfied it had been removed from the terror blacklist and action had been taken on sanctions and aid.
The regime stunned the world two years ago when it claimed to have conducted its first nuclear test using a plutonium device.—guardian.co.uk