- The Washington Times - Monday, August 26, 2002

VIENNA, Austria - The International Atomic Energy Agency says it is increasingly "frustrated" after a decade of failed attempts to inspect North Koreas nuclear capabilities and has toughened a previously "softer" approach.

The unusually stern warning from the media-shy IAEA - the worlds only safeguard against the diversion of nuclear energy programs for warfare purposes - comes as North Korea makes intense diplomatic efforts to ease its international isolation.

But the Norths political overtures to South Korea, Japan and the United States have not been accompanied by a willingness to cooperate with the IAEA, a senior official said in an interview at the agencys Vienna headquarters.

"Weve been frustrated for 10 years," said Piet de Klerk, the IAEAs director of external relations and policy coordination. "Weve continued to talk" since Pyongyang pulled out of the treaty requiring it to cooperate with IAEA inspections in March 1993, "but it has been a roller-coaster," he said.

"Weve never had a complete picture, so we are unable to give any assurances that there are no nuclear activities in North Korea."

The IAEA, worried that the North could still have plutonium from a suspected nuclear weapons program that it agreed to freeze in 1994, wants a full account of what happened to the smallest amount of the potential bomb-making material.

"In 1994, North Korea unloaded a 5-megawatt reactor very hastily and put the materials in cans, so we need to check the radioactivity levels," Mr. de Klerk said last week.

But the government of Chairman Kim Jong-il has consistently ignored the agencys demands. While it has allowed IAEA representatives to look at some documents, it did not allow even the copying of the papers, Mr. de Klerk said.

For years, he said, the IAEA remained understanding of how slowly things happen in the reclusive state and held meetings twice a year with the North Koreans. But the North kept avoiding the real issues on the agenda, making the gatherings almost meaningless.

"They have a number of very good people, so weve had some articulate discussions, but with very strict confines," Mr. de Klerk said.

Earlier this summer, the IAEA took several North Korean experts to a nuclear site in Britain to show them "exactly what we would do if we went" to the North. But, he said, the gesture was futile.

The IAEA is ready to "welcome them back at any time as members [of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty or NPT], because when they left, that limited our dialogue but they have not responded," Mr. de Klerk said.

The agency became so impatient that, when the North Koreans refused to accept some of the topics on the agenda of the last scheduled meeting in June, it canceled the date. That meeting has yet to be rescheduled.

"We cant spend more of our budget on a nonmember state," Mr. de Klerk said. "A few years ago, we were much softer and agreed to discuss less significant issues like preservation. There is no point in that anymore."

He dismissed as not serious recent North Korean threats to withdraw from the 1994 agreement with the United States, known as the Agreed Framework, which froze Pyongyangs suspected nuclear weapons program in exchange for the promised construction of two light-water reactors.

"Weve heard this before," he said. "Pulling out of the agreement will be a very high price for them, so they will sleep on it for another night."During ministerial talks with South Korea earlier this month, officials from the North warned they might have to go their "own way" if the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO), the U.S.-led international consortium building the reactors, does not complete the project.

Both U.S. and KEDO officials said at an Aug. 7 concrete-pouring ceremony at the plants site in Kumho, on North Koreas northeastern coast, that if Pyongyang does not allow the IAEA inspectors in by the time the buildings are finished, no nuclear components will be delivered and the project will be suspended.

Undersecretary of State John Bolton went further in a draft of a speech prepared for delivery in Seoul this week, saying the United States would pull out of the agreement if it was proven that Pyongyang had ever diverted plutonium from its nuclear energy program.

The final contents of the speech remain under discussion at the State Department.

The Agreed Framework, negotiated in 1994 by the Clinton administration after North Korea withdrew from the NPT, requires Pyongyang to allow IAEA inspections to resume when a "significant portion of the project is completed and before the nuclear components are delivered."

Asked about the usefulness of the accord, which has some harsh critics in the Bush administration, Mr. de Klerk replied in a quintessentially diplomatic manner.

"The Agreed Framework defused a dangerous situation at the time," he said. "We have accepted it as a fact. One can make the case that it has delayed our work, but whatever its drawbacks, it gives us leverage in dealing with North Korea."

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