- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 28, 2002

SEOUL North Korea ordered the expulsion of U.N. nuclear inspectors yesterday and announced that it will reactivate a laboratory able to produce weapons-grade plutonium, but the U.N. nuclear agency said its investigators were "staying put."
The White House denounced Pyongyang's moves, which are certain to escalate tensions over North Korea's plan to restart nuclear facilities shut down in a deal with the United States in 1994.
The inspectors were the last means that the International Atomic Energy Agency had to monitor whether the facilities are being used for nuclear-weapons projects.
Despite IAEA warnings, the North removed monitoring seals and surveillance cameras from the nuclear complex at Yongbyon earlier this week.
In a letter to IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei, North Korea demanded that the inspectors leave "immediately," saying there was no justification for them to remain because the North has disavowed the agreement to freeze its nuclear weapons capabilities.
The letter also announced the North's intention to reopen the reprocessing lab, which in the past was used to extract plutonium from spent nuclear-reactor fuel.
Pyongyang said in the letter that it had decided to reactivate the Yongbyon complex after the United States canceled a shipment of fuel oil promised in the 1994 agreement and because President Bush labeled the North part of an "axis of evil" that also included Iran and Iraq.
The letter, a copy of which was obtained by the Associated Press, also accused the United States of making the North "the target for the nuclear pre-emptive strike."
North Korea says it is restarting the reactor to generate badly needed electricity after the United States and its allies cut off oil shipments.
The shipments were halted after recent revelations that the North Koreans had been covertly developing nuclear weapons in violation of the 1994 agreement.
In Crawford, Texas, President Bush's spokesman denounced the demand for the inspectors' removal and called on Pyongyang to shut down its nuclear-weapons program.
"We will not respond to threats or broken commitments," spokesman Scott McClellan said.
The Vienna, Austria-based IAEA resisted the demand for its inspectors to leave. "At the moment, our inspectors are staying put. They are on standby," said spokeswoman Melissa Fleming. The IAEA currently has three inspectors in North Korea.
Mr. ElBaradei sent a response to North Korea's atomic-energy chief, Ri Je-son, demanding that the North allow the inspectors to remain and install new seals and surveillance cameras at the site.
"The departure of inspectors would practically bring an end to our ability to monitor [North Koreas] nuclear program or assess its nature. This is one further step away from defusing the crisis," Mr. ElBaradei said in a statement.
Pyongyang said it was reopening the reprocessing lab to give "safe storage" to spent fuel rods that will come from the reactor it plans to restart. The IAEA did not comment on the report on the lab.
The lab can be used to extract weapons-grade plutonium from spent fuel rods. North Korea already has 8,000 spent fuel rods in storage that experts say could yield four or five nuclear weapons within months. A Korean Central News Agency statement, monitored by South Korea's Yonhap news agency, made no mention of those stockpiled rods.
Meanwhile, the IAEA said the North was moving fresh fuel cells into the five-kilowatt reactor at Yongbyon. About 2,000 new rods had been moved to a storage facility at the site as of yesterday, up from 1,000 a day earlier, said Miss Fleming, the IAEA spokeswoman.
The reactor needs 8,000 rods to be started.
North Korea is one of the more than 185 signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but it has refused to accept IAEA inspections of its nuclear facilities as required by the treaty.
The IAEA says North Korea is still a treaty member and must accept its inspections, but the North says its signatory status depends on its 1994 nuclear deal with Washington.
South Korea earlier yesterday convened an emergency meeting of its National Security Council to discuss the North's announcement.
Earlier, South Korean President-elect Roh Moo-hyun said North Korea's defiant attitude could make it difficult for him to continue his predecessor's policy of seeking reconciliation with Pyongyang after he takes office in February.
"Whatever North Korea's rationale is in taking such actions, they are not beneficial to peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia, nor are they helpful for its own safety and prosperity," Mr. Roh said in a statement.
North Korea's government has repeatedly called for a nonaggression treaty with the United States, though economic benefits are also a priority for the destitute country.
The North's state media accused Washington yesterday of using the nuclear issue as a pretext for invasion.
The United States "calls for disarming [North Korea] under the absurd pretext of its nuclear program and then launching a surprise attack on it to overthrow its political system," an English-language commentary by the KCNA said.

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