North Korea Invites UN Nuclear Monitors to Return

Posted March 19th, 2012 at 6:50 pm (UTC-5)
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The United Nations nuclear watchdog said Monday it has received an invitation from North Korea to visit, three years after its inspectors were expelled from the communist country.

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

The U.S. State Department said that, in principle, it supports all efforts by the IAEA to gain access to North Korea. But spokeswoman Victoria Nuland added that Washington would consider the satellite launch a violation “not only of North Korea's U.N. obligations, but of the commitments it made to the U.S.”

Last month, North Korea agreed to suspend uranium enrichment and allow the return of U.N. weapons inspectors in exchange for desperately needed food aid.

In a joint announcement after talks with the United States, Pyongyang also promised a moratorium on its nuclear development and long-range missile tests.

North Korea has rejected international pressure not to proceed with the launch, saying it has a legitimate right, as a sovereign country, to put into orbit scientific satellites. It also 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.”

Tensions rose Monday on the Korean peninsula, with Pyongyang releasing video of a major military exercise and Seoul accusing its northern neighbor of using the planned satellite launch as a pretext for testing a nuclear weapon delivery system.

The North Korean video shows leader Kim Jong Un meeting soldiers and watching what is described as a joint strike drill of the North's army, navy and air force. It shows a warship being blown up at sea, soldiers firing missiles and an airplane exploding in mid-air.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak met with his foreign minister and top security advisors Monday to discuss Pyongyang's move. A presidential spokesman described the planned launch as a “grave provocation,” saying the real purpose of the launch is to develop a long-range delivery system for nuclear weapons.

The spokesman also said South Korea will work with the international community and discuss the matter with the leaders of related countries, including the United States, Japan, China, Russia and the European Union during next week's Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul.

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.