North Korea in violation, but IAEA still calls for peaceful end

Thursday, February 13, 2003

VIENNA, Austria -- The U.N. nuclear agency declared North Korea in violation of international treaties Wednesday, raising the stakes in the standoff by sending the dispute to the Security Council.

The move could lead to punishing sanctions which the North has said it would consider an act of war.

Russia and Cuba refused to endorse the measure, saying the International Atomic Energy Agency's decision would detract from a flurry of diplomatic efforts aimed at easing the crisis.

Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei said the IAEA would continue to press for a peaceful solution, but he said months of intransigence on the part of North Korea's communist regime had left the U.N. nuclear watchdog no choice.

"The current situation sets a dangerous precedent," ElBaradei said. He said North Korea was only a "month or two" from producing "a significant amount of plutonium" that could be diverted for making weapons, now that IAEA inspectors no longer controlled the country's nuclear programs.

U.S. intelligence officials, meanwhile, warned that Pyongyang has an untested ballistic missile capable of hitting the western United States. The North Korean missile is a three-stage version of the Taepo Dong 2, said Vice Adm. Lowell Jacoby, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Although North Korea has held to a voluntary moratorium on flight tests of its long-range missiles, U.S. officials fear Pyongyang likely will conduct new tests.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer praised the IAEA action, calling it a "clear indication that the international community will not accept North Korea's nuclear program." He said the conflict pits North Korea against the world, not just the United States.

"This is a matter to be settled through diplomacy," Fleischer said.

Not meeting obligations

In its resolution that sent the standoff to the Security Council, the IAEA's 35-nation board of governors said North Korea had not met its obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and other accords.

Because the North has expelled U.N. inspectors, the agency "remains unable to verify that there has been no diversion of nuclear material" for weapons use, it said.

Because of the North's belligerent threats of war, it was unclear whether the Security Council would impose sanctions, especially in light of objections from Russia and China, permanent council members with veto power.

ElBaradei suggested the Security Council for now would stop short of punishing the already impoverished country with sanctions.

"The message is ... let us first try a diplomatic solution as we are trying in Iraq," he said.

Abstaining from the vote, Russia's representative called the IAEA move "premature and counterproductive."

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