North Korea has apparently restored access for inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to its nuclear facilities. Some reports suggest that the UN monitors can now access all facilities at Yongbyon again, including the reprocessing plant. However there hasn’t been an official confirmation to these claims. The latest developments have come just two days after the US removed the North from its blacklist of states sponsoring terrorism.
Satellite picture of the nuclear facility at Yongbyon in North Korea
Welcoming the US’s decision to drop it from its blacklist, North Korea announced at the weekend that it would resume nuclear disablement work and allow IAEA monitors, who were barred, last week from its atomic sites, to return.
Prof. Michael Brzoska, an expert from Institute for peace research and security policy in Hamburg says the move raises hopes that international efforts to denuclearise North Korea would now gain momentum. “The North Koreans really put a lot of weight to this decision. In fact it was one of the major preconditions that Pyongyang wanted to achieve prior to opening its nuclear programmes.”
The situation was however entirely different just almost two weeks ago. Pyongyang had been threatening to resume activities at its controversial plutonium-producing nuclear plant, after accusing Washington of failing to fulfil its promise to drop it from its list for states sponsoring terrorism. North Korea was blacklisted in 1988 after its agents were implicated in the blowing up a South Korean aircraft a year before, killing 115 people.
Agreement on nuclear verification
Washington, on the other hand, had been insisting that Pyongyang should first agree to outside verification for its nuclear inventory that it submitted in June.
An agreement was only be brokered after US Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill paid a visit to Pyongyang last week.
And last Saturday the US state department’s spokesman Sean McCormack announced that North Korea would be delisted, as it had agreed to verification of all of its nuclear activities.
"Based upon the cooperation and agreements that North Korea has recently provided and the fact that the DPRK has met the statutory criteria for rescission, the Secretary of State has rescinded the designation of North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism. That is effective with her signature."
McCormack added the North had also agreed to allow nuclear experts to conduct forensic tests at all its nuclear facilities.
In August the North had started disabling its nuclear plant as part of an international deal, agreed upon last year. In return it was promised a number of economic and diplomatic concessions and energy aid.
But the dispute between Washington and Pyongyang brought the process to a standstill. Experts say now that Washington has fulfilled its promise, the ball is in the North Korean court and it should prove that it means what it says.
“The question is now if the North Koreans have made the correct nuclear declaration. That’s something that we would find out when the inspectors will visit there and analyze the samples," says Prof. Michael Brzoska.
Meanwhile in other parts of East Asia, opinions are divided over the US concessions.
Officials in South Korea have said that they hoped the move would help warm their bilateral ties, which have been strained since earlier this year. Seoul is also considering resuming its shipments of food and steel to the North, once Pyongyang restarts dismantling its nuclear plant.
However its conservative newspaper Chosun Ilbo has termed it an "unprincipled" move. Dozens of protesters also took to the streets on Monday in Seoul, urging the US to roll back its decision.
Japan has registered its disappointment over the US move, calling it "extremely regrettable". China, on the other hand, has termed it a “constructive" effort.