North Korea's two-year-old nuclear crisis has taxed the world's patience, the chief United Nations nuclear regulator said on Wednesday, urging communist Pyongyang to return to its disarmament treaty obligations.
SEOUL, South Korea North Korea's two-year-old nuclear crisis has taxed the world's patience, the chief United Nations nuclear regulator said on Wednesday, urging communist Pyongyang to return to its disarmament treaty obligations.
Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), also said there was no comparison between South Korea's recently reported atomic experiments and North Korea's full-fledged reprocessing programme and weapons assertions.
"The six-party talks have been going on for quite awhile and the international community is getting impatient to see quick results and to see North Korea turning back to the non-proliferation regime," ElBaradei told reporters.
North Korea has said it would not rejoin six-party nuclear disarmament talks with South Korea, the United States, Japan, China, and Russia until the South's recently disclosed atomic experiments were fully dealt with.
South Korea revealed last month that its scientists conducted without government approval or knowledge tests to enrich uranium four years ago and to separate plutonium in 1982.
ElBaradei said South Korean "experiments at laboratory-level" were very different from North Korea's "fully operating reprocessing plant" and Pyongyang's repeated claims to have turned some plutonium into a nuclear deterrent force.
"These are not two situations to be compared," ElBaradei told a news conference on the sidelines of the Pugwash Conference on Science and World Affairs, a private group of experts and officials discussing disarmament.
"The Republic of Korea has been continuously under verification, under safeguards, while North Korea has moved out of the nonproliferation regime for over two years now," he said.
But Pyongyang's foreign ministry spokesman said on Wednesday that IAEA officials were "downplaying the gravity of the (South Korea's) case," suspecting U.S. influences behind its stance.
"The DPRK cannot but remain vigilant against this, given the precedent in which IAEA had applied double-dealing standards when dealing with the nuclear issue on the Korean peninsula in the past, away from the principle of impartiality," the spokesman told the North's official KCNA agency.
It said Seoul now has full access to the nuclear weapons development technology. DPRK is the official name of North Korea.
North Korea expelled IAEA monitors in late 2002 and quit the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in early 2003. The moves followed U.S. statements that North Korean officials had admitted to pursuing a secret uranium enrichment program.
North Korea denies having a uranium-based nuclear program but has repeated its assertion that it has made weapons-grade plutonium reprocessed from spent fuel rods to deter a U.S. attack.
ElBaradei said the IAEA supported the six-party process and was keen to see diplomacy succeed to enable the U.N. nuclear watchdog to resume work in secretive North Korea.
"If and when we go back to North Korea, we would like to have full-fledged verification to ensure that we are able to see all nuclear and nuclear-relevant activities to assure ourselves that North Korea's nuclear program is exclusively for peaceful purposes," he said.
The North Korean foreign ministry spokesman said any discussion on the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula must cover the South's nuclear issue.
"It would not be possible for (North Korea) to take part in any effort for a solution to the nuclear issue with confidence unless the nuclear issue of South Korea is settled understandably," the spokesman said.
IAEA inspectors would conduct more tours of South Korean nuclear facilities this month for additional work before the agency reports to its board of governors in November, he said.
Additional reporting by Rhee So-eui