North Korea moved closer Thursday to relaunching its nuclear arms program, announcing that it wants to reactivate the facility that produced its atomic bomb and banning U.N. inspectors from the site.
The U.S. said the moves did not mean the death of international efforts to persuade the North to recommit to an agreement that offers it diplomatic and economic concessions in exchange for nuclear disarmament.
Despite the gloomy implications of North Korea's moves, they could be a negotiating ploy: The year needed to start its reprocessing plant could be used to wrest more concessions from the regime's interlocutors.
John Bolton, who has served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and U.S. undersecretary of state in charge of the North Korean nuclear dossier, suggested the North's tactics were working.
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Bolton, a critic of what he considers U.S. leniency with North Korea who remains well-connected with senior Bush administration officials, told The Associated Press that Washington was planning to meet the communist country's key demand “within a week” by removing it from a State Department list of nations that sponsor terrorism.
That would be a significant move because the disarmament deal is bogged down over U.S. refusal to do just that until the North accepts a plan for verifying a list of nuclear assets that it submitted to its negotiating partners.
It was unclear whether the U.S. would settle for less than the full accounting it had asked for before the North walked away from the talks.
White House press secretary Dana Perino said a nuclear disarmament verification protocol remained essential to taking North Korea off the terrorism list.
The plans of the reclusive communist nation were revealed by the International Atomic Energy Agency. The North had already banned IAEA inspectors from the reprocessing plant last month after demanding they remove agency seals from the facility. But the experts continued to have access to the rest of the site until Thursday.
The IAEA said its small inspection team would remain on the site until told otherwise by North Korean authorities, and the State Department suggested it does not view North Korea's statement as the end of a six-nation agreement on ending the regime's atomic program.
Tensions also rose elsewhere on the Korean peninsula, with the North warning the South against sending naval ships into its waters and threatening warfare as it reportedly shifted an arsenal of missiles to a nearby island for more test launches.
The warning came hours after a South Korean newspaper reported that a U.S. spy satellite detected signs the North had positioned about 10 missiles near the disputed sea border after test-firing two short-range missiles on Tuesday. The Chosun Ilbo report cited an unidentified South Korean official.