- The Washington Times - Friday, January 10, 2003

UNITED NATIONS, Jan. 10 (UPI) — U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan Friday expressed regret over North Korea's decision to withdraw from the 1970 nuclear non-proliferation treaty and, according to a spokesman, "strongly urges reconsideration of this decision."

He led the world in expressing regret over the action.

"The NPT is the linchpin of the nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament regime and, with 188 states parties, is the most widely subscribed to multilateral treaty in this area," the spokesman said. "No state party to the NPT has ever withdrawn from the treaty in the 33 years since its entry into force.

"While noting the denial by the DPRK of any intentions to acquire nuclear weapons, the secretary-general stresses the importance of adhering to treaties and their legal obligations in achieving international peace and security in accordance with international law," the spokesman said. "He takes this opportunity to reiterate that the problems regarding DPRK's nuclear program must be resolved through peaceful dialogue."

The International Atomic Energy Agency's director general, Mohamed ElBaradei, said the DPRK decision to withdraw from the NPT was "a continuation of a policy of defiance and was counterproductive to ongoing efforts to achieve peace and stability in the Korean Peninsula."

He called the NPT "the cornerstone of the international community's efforts to control the spread of nuclear weapons. A challenge to the integrity of that treaty may constitute a threat to international peace and security."

Said ElBaradei in a statement, "I strongly urge the DPRK to reverse its decision and to seek instead a diplomatic solution."

ElBaradei also noted that under the treaty, a decision to withdraw can only be effected after three months.

Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere of France, this month's president of the Security Council, acknowledged receiving a letter from the DPRK mission to the United Nations notifying the 15 member panel of its decision. He said the letter would be discussed "early next week."

Speaking as the French representative, he said, "We have condemned this decision and France is in very close consultations with partners, including countries of the region on this subject. One of the questions we are facing is how the Security Council will deal with this issue."

He added, "We think that the council will have to address this new development."

The European Union was among the first to criticize North Korea.

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 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."

ElBaradei, who was visiting Washington, met Friday afternoon with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who had said in a statement, "We hope that the North Korean leadership will realize the folly of its actions, will realize that the international community and the United States will not be intimidated, and we will continue to work for a peaceful solution, not only on behalf of the American people, but on behalf of the people of the world."

U.S. President George W. Bush and Chinese President Jiang Zemin discussed by telephone Pyongyang's decision, and expressed the "common purpose" of keeping the Korean peninsula free of nuclear weapons, the White House said.

"I think it's fair to say that North Korea has decided that it wants to stick its finger in the eye of the world," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. "This is not an action North Korea has taken vis—vis the United States; this is an action that North Korea has taken vis—vis the world."

The White House said the telephone conversation between Bush and Ziang lasted about 15 minutes; both leaders viewed North Korea's latest move as "a concern to the entire international community."

North Korea, in defiance of a 1994 agreed framework with the United States, has said it was reopening a shuttered nuclear reactor believed to have produced plutonium for nuclear weapons. It also said it was retrieving spent fuel rods that had been put in storage and which could be used for nuclear weapons.

The North Korean move came after the United States cut off fuel oil aid to Pyongyang because the North Koreans admitted in October to violating the 1994 pact by clandestinely implementing another program to obtain nuclear weapons products.

The North Korean letter to ElBaradei blamed its actions on Washington.

"Rather than providing the DPRK with formal assurances against the use of nuclear weapons, the Bush administration, labeling the DPRK as 'axis of evil' and designating it a target for its nuclear preemptive strike," destroyed the foundation and spirit of the non-proliferation treaty, the 1994 Agreed Framework between North Korea and the United States, and other agreements, the letter from Ri Je Son, director general of the North Korean Department of Atomic Energy said in his letter to ElBaradei.

North Korea does not intend at the moment to produce nuclear weapons, and if the United States "gives up its hostile policy" Pyongyang would allow U.S. inspectors into the country for verification, Ri said.

The leaders of Russia and Japan issued a joint statement Friday expressing disappointment and concern over North Korea's announcement that it is withdrawing from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, in Moscow on an official visit, urged President Vladimir Putin to intervene in the crisis by using his personal relationship with North Korea's leader Kim Jong Il to help mediate between Pyongyang and the outside world.

Koizumi said he believed Moscow could play a "vital role" in resolving the crisis.

While Putin has not yet spoken out on the latest move by North Korea, a joint statement issued after his talks with Koizumi said Russia and Japan were equally concerned with "the recent development of the situation concerning North Korea's nuclear program, in particular North Korea's announcement that it intends to withdraw from the NPT and its refusal to abide to the agreements of the accord with the International Atomic Energy Agency."

In a separate statement, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Moscow was "deeply concerned" and "alarmed" by North Korea's move.

"There is no doubt that such a step can only aggravate the already tense atmosphere around the Korean peninsula and strike a significant blow to … global and regional security," the ministry statement said.

Russia "hopes Pyongyang will heed the unanimous opinion of the world community and of its neighbors and partners, and choose to respect its international obligations with respect to non-proliferation," the statement said.

South Korean officials said that the North Korean action might represent another effort to achieve a deal with the United States.

South Korean officials, noting the phrase "no intention to produce nuclear weapons," said the announcement might indicate North Korea's willingness to give up nuclear ambitions.

A senior Foreign Ministry official, speaking anonymously, told United Press International that the announcement "seems (to be) part of an effort to have a deal with the Bush administration, rather than worsening tensions with the United States."

President-elect Roh Moo-hyun expressed regret at the move and urged Pyongyang to reverse its decision. A spokesman for Roh, Lee Nak-yon, said the incoming leader "had urged North Korea to rescind its decision to resume nuclear facility operations and asked it to at least avoid actions that will further aggravate the situation."


(With reporting by Gareth Harding in Brussels, Richard Tomkins at the White House, Anthony Louis in Moscow and Jong-Heon Lee in Seoul.)

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