North Korea on Monday lifted its ban on U.N. inspections of the plutonium-producing plant it used to set up a nuclear test explosion and said it will resume deactivating a linked facility within days, the International Atomic Energy Agency said.
The moves were revealed in a restricted IAEA document to its 35-nation board of governors that was obtained by The Associated Press. They were a strong indication that the country was making good on its pledge to return to an international deal meant to strip its nuclear weapons program in exchange for political concessions and energy aid.
The North said Sunday it would resume dismantling its atomic program after the United States removed North Korea from its list of states sponsoring terrorism.
“The agency inspectors were informed today that as of 14 October 2008, core discharge activities at the (nuclear) reactor would be resumed,” said the two-paragraph document. It said all activities envisioned in the “monitoring and verification arrangements” agreed on between the U.N. nuclear agency and the North would also resume.
North Korea set off a nuclear test blast in 2006 but later agreed to dismantle its nuclear program in exchange for the concessions.
Disarmament negotiations have foundered and up to late last week, the North had threatened to reactivate the plutonium reprocessing plant at the Yongbyon site, telling IAEA inspectors to remove IAEA seals and banning U.N. inspectors from the sprawling site. It also stopped deactivating the nuclear reactor at Yongbyon.
Despite the ban, the three-member IAEA team was allowed to stay on at their guest house in Yongbyon. And one diplomat told The Associated Press on Monday that the government approved visas late last week for members of a new inspection team – even as it appeared to be moving to restart its atomic activities.
That suggested that the North's threat to stop dismantling its nuclear program and restart it was a negotiating ploy meant to draw more concessions.