- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 18, 2009

SEOUL | U.S. monitors of North Korea’s nuclear program left the communist nation Friday after the regime ordered them out and vowed to restart its reactor in anger over U.N. criticism of its recent rocket launch.

The four Americans arrived in Beijing on a flight from Pyongyang but declined to speak to reporters. Their departure came a day after U.N. nuclear inspectors left the North. One U.S. official remains in Pyongyang and will leave Saturday, the State Department said.

The pullout of all international inspectors will leave the global community with no onsite means to monitor North Korea’s nuclear facilities, which can yield weapons-grade plutonium if restarted.

North Korea vowed earlier this week to restart its nuclear program and quit six-nation disarmament talks because the U.N. Security Council criticized its April 5 rocket launch as a violation of resolutions barring it from ballistic missile-related activity.

Pyongyang says the liftoff was a peaceful satellite launch, but other nations believe it was a test of its missile technology.

The North’s angry reaction threw prospects for the already-stalled disarmament talks into further doubt. The United States, China, Japan, South Korea and Russia have urged the North to return to the negotiating table, but it has not responded.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov plans to visit North Korea next week, a duty officer at the Foreign Ministry in Moscow confirmed. The officer spoke on the condition of anonymity in line with policy.

South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo newspaper, citing unidentified Russian officials, reported Friday that Mr. Lavrov plans to visit Pyongyang around April 24 and is likely to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and deliver a letter from Russian President Dmitri Medvedev.

Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said Beijing will work to continue the six-nation disarmament talks and “hopes for the development of and improvement in relations between the United States and North Korea,” according to an interview in Japan’s Nihon Keizai newspaper.

China is North Korea’s only major ally but backed the U.N. rebuke. In the interview, Mr. Yang did not appear to directly criticize North Korea over the launch, but said it should offer an explanation.

“North Korea announced a satellite launch,” he said. “It is appropriate for North Korea to explain why it took the action.”

Later Friday, the North renewed routine accusations that South Korea and the United States are plotting an attack.

“When a nuclear war will break out due to the war chariot of the ‘South Korea-U.S. military alliance’ is a matter of time,” the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.

North Korea conducted a nuclear test in 2006 but later agreed to dismantle its nuclear program in return for shipments of fuel oil under a 2007 six-nation deal. The process has been stalled since last year by a dispute over how to verify North Korea’s past nuclear activities.

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