North Korea Invites UN Nuclear Monitors to Return

Posted March 19th, 2012 at 11:30 pm (UTC-5)
Leave a comment

The United Nations nuclear watchdog says it has received an invitation to visit North Korea, three years after its inspectors were expelled from the communist country.

A spokeswoman for the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency said Monday that the invitation was received Friday — the same day Pyongyang announced it would soon launch a rocket carrying a satellite.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the United States favors any IAEA access to North Korea, but that doesn't change its opposition to a satellite launch.

“But again, the intent was for the IAEA to go in and monitor implementation of the entire Leap Day deal. So obviously there is benefit for any access that the IAEA can get, but it doesn't change the fact that we would consider a satellite launch a violation not only of their U.N. obligations but of the commitments that they made to us on Leap Day.”

North Korea agreed on February 29 to suspend uranium enrichment, along with its nuclear development and long-range missile tests. It also promised to allow the return of U.N. weapons inspectors. At the same time, the U.S. agreed to send North Korea desperately needed food aid.

North Korea's chief nuclear negotiator, Ri Yong-Ho, said late Monday that Pyongyang considers the deal with the U.S. to be still in effect, saying “the satellite launch is one thing, and the DPRK-US agreement is another.”

Many international observers said the deal was a possible sign North Korea's new leader, Kim Jong Un, is taking a more conciliatory approach to foreign affairs than his father, Kim Jong Il. But Denny Roy, a senior fellow at the East-West Institute in Hawaii, told VOA that the decision follows a longstanding North Korean pattern of following up concessions with provocations.

“This latest development leads outside observers to conclude even more strongly that it's as if Kim Jong Il is still running North Korea's foreign policy from the grave. There's been no appreciable change in virtually all of the policies that we learned to loathe under the Kim Jong Il regime.”

Pyongyang has rejected international pressure not to proceed with the launch. It says next month's launch — to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the birth of North Korea's founder and late president Kim Il Sung — is in accordance with international regulations governing the launch of satellites for “peaceful scientific purposes.”

On Monday, a South Korean presidential spokesperson described the planned launch as a “grave provocation,” saying it is a cover for the testing of a long-range missile capable of carrying a nuclear weapon.

The U.S., Russia, South Korea and Japan have condemned the planned launch, saying it violates a U.N. ban on all North Korean launches using ballistic missile technology.

Even Pyongyang's long-time ally, China, has expressed rare disapproval. Beijing said it is concerned about the launch's potential to disrupt regional peace and security.