23 February 2007 More than four years after ordering United Nations inspectors out and withdrawing from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) has invited the head of the UN atomic watchdog to visit for talks next month.
“I see this as a step toward the denuclearization of the North Korean Peninsular,” UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei told reporters of the invitation, which follows six-party talks in Beijing where the DPRK committed to dismantle eventually all nuclear weapon facilities and materials in return for energy and other aid.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, on an official visit to Vienna, Austria, where the IAEA is headquartered, welcomed the move. “This is an encouraging development of the situation,” he said.
“I would sincerely hope that the international community, not only the parties to the Six Party process, but the whole international community would encourage such a process of resolving the North Korean nuclear issue as soon as possible,” he added, referring to the diplomatic talks involving the two Koreas, China, Japan, the United States and the Russian Federation.
The Secretary-General also voiced hope that Mr. ElBaradei would be able to discuss with the DPRK authorities detailed matters, such as freezing its nuclear facilities and the eventual dismantlement of all nuclear weapons and facilities. Since its withdrawal from the NPT, the DPRK has carried out a nuclear bomb test, which prompted the Security Council to impose sanctions on Pyongyang.
“I hope that the DPRK may eventually come back as a member of the IAEA,” Mr. ElBaradei told a joint news conference with Mr. Ban. “We will discuss issues of mutual concern and how we can implement the agreement reached at the six-Party talks about the shut down and eventual abandonment of the Yongbyon nuclear facility, including the reprocessing facility.”
He said he looked forward to “seeing the DPRK come back to the Agency as full members where we can not only provide verification but provide also assistance in many areas in terms of nuclear technology and nuclear safety.”
Ever since the DPRK ordered the IAEA inspectors out at the end of 2003 and formally withdrew from the NPT and its inspections and other safeguards of fuel diversion from energy generation to weapons production, top UN officials have repeatedly appealed to it to return to the fold.
Yesterday Mr. Ban called on Iran, which is embroiled in a dispute with the UN Security Council over its nuclear programme, to learn from “some good lessons” offered by the DPRK’s commitment at the six-party talks “that it is always better, always desirable, to resolve all of the issues through dialogue.”
Earlier this week Iran, already under limited UN sanction, ignored a Council deadline to suspend uranium enrichment and faces possible further sanctions. Enrichment can produce fuel either for nuclear energy, which Iran says is its only goal, or for making nuclear weapons, which other countries, including European nations and the United States, maintain is its main aim.
Today, Mr. Ban urged the Tehran authorities to be open with the Agency. “They should make everything subject to the verification inspections, and the Iranian Government and authorities should try to convince fully that if they really want to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes under the provisions of the NPT, they should make full compliance with the safeguards agreement,” he said.