- The Washington Times - Friday, January 10, 2003

BRUSSELS, Belgium, Jan. 10 (UPI) — The European Union Friday criticized North Korea's decision to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, a key international pact aimed at halting the spread of nuclear weapons.

Greece, which currently has the rotating presidency of the European Union, said the 15-member bloc noted "with grave concern" the recent expulsion of International Atomic Energy Authority inspectors from North Korea.

The EU statement urged Pyongyang to allow the inspectors back into the country and to "dismantle immediately any nuclear weapons program in a visible and verifiable manner."

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana also criticized the decision by North Korean leader Kim Jong Il's decision to pull out of the NPT.

"I regret in the strongest terms the announcement by North Korea that it intends to withdraw from the non-proliferation treaty," he said. "The NPT is one of the key pillars of international stability."

Solana described the step as a matter of "grave concern" to the European Union.

He said he hoped the authorities in Pyongyang would reconsider their decision and "seek the path of dialogue over that of confrontation."

North Korea, which became the first country to pull out of the pact since it was signed more than 30 years ago, said it had taken the measure to protect its sovereignty.

"We can no longer remain bound to the (non-proliferation) treaty, allowing the country's security and the dignity of our nation to be infringed upon," the government said in a statement.

The move sparked a chorus of criticism from the international community.

French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, who is in China for talks aimed at defusing the confrontation on the Korean peninsula, said it was a "serious decision heavy with consequences."

De Villepin called on the U.N. Security Council, which France currently chairs, to have urgent discussions on the crisis.

U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton said the news was "not at all unexpected" as "the North Koreans were not adhering to the treaty when they were still a part of it."

The leaders of Japan and South Korea, Pyongyang's immediate neighbors, also condemned the move, along with China and Russia. Australia said it would send an official delegation to the North Korean capital in an attempt to persuade Pyongyang to reverse its decision.




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