Yongbyon and beyond…

UPDATE:  Inspectors barred.

North Korea has barred international inspectors from a nuclear reprocessing plant that produces weapons-grade material and intends to restart activity there in a week, the International Atomic Energy Agency said on Wednesday.

The decision by North Korea comes as the Vienna-based nuclear agency also announced it had completed on Wednesday the removal of all seals and surveillance cameras from the reprocessing plant, one of several sites at its vast Yongbyon nuclear complex. The removal was carried out following a formal request to the agency by the North two days ago.

…[T]he North Koreans “also informed IAEA inspectors that they plan to introduce nuclear material to the reprocessing plant in one week’s time. They further stated that from here on, IAEA inspectors will have no further access to the reprocessing plant.”

The inspectors have worked there, living in guest quarters on the site, since July 2007. (Herald Tribune)

ORIGINAL POST: North Korea has formally requested that the IAEA remove its seals and surveilance equipment from the Yongbyon processing facility.  According to the Associated Press:

North Korea had said that it was making “thorough preparations” to start up Yongbyon, which it began disabling last year under a now-stalled disarmament-for-aid deal.

“Some equipment previously removed by the DPRK during the disablement process has been brought back” to Yongbyon, ElBaradei told the closed meeting in comments made available to reporters. DPRK is the abbreviation of North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

While the reactor remains shut down, “this morning, the DPRK authorities asked the agency’s inspectors to remove seals and surveillance equipment,” he said  (Associated Press).

According to Bloomberg, the South Korean government responded to this news by threatening to cut off promised energy assistance (previously negotiated as a reward to the DPRK for denuclearization progress). 

South Korea has so far delivered about 40 percent of a promised 1 million tons of energy aid to North Korea (Bloomberg).

According to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, South Korea has also delayed shipment of “aid materials” to the DPRK including “steel pipes”.

The US is still maintaining its aid commitments as agreed to under the six-party talks.  According to the Choson Ilbo  (quoting the Congressional Research Service), the US has already paid the DPRK $20 million to dismantle the Yongbyon facility (famously blown up earlier this year) in addition to:

Spending close to US$1.3 billion on aid to North Korea since 1995, including: approximately 2.5 million tons of food worth over $700 million (since 1995), approximately $150 million on fuel oil provisions, and $400 million on the KEDO light water reactor.

This year the U.S. government plans to donate an additional 500,000 tons of food and an additional $100 million in oil shipments.

The DPRK claims this turnabout is a response to the US government’s failure to remove it from the list of state sponsors of terror (a symbolic gesture as it carries little economic significance).  The US claims that the DPRK did not meet the disclosure requirements necessary for it to justify taking such action.

In July 2008, the Congressional Research Service published a paper on the DPRK’s terrorism list removal.  Read it here.

Read the full articles below:

South Korea delays aid to North
Australian Broadcasting Corporation
9/22/2008

North Korea Reactor Restart May Mean Halt to Aid, Yonhap Says
Bloomberg
Seonjin Cha
9/21/2008

North Korea asks UN agency to pull reactor seals
Associated Press
George Jahn
9/22/2008

U.S. Gave N. Korea $1.2 Billion in Aid
Choson Ilbo
9/18/2008

US to Continue Energy Aid for N. Korea
Korea Times
9/23/2008

North Korea bars international inspectors from nuclear facility
Herald Tribune
Elaine Sciolino
9/24/2008

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