N Korea 'rushing to make bomb'

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The Independent Online
FEARS that North Korea is racing to produce nuclear weapons were heightened yesterday by the Stalinist regime's announcement that it was pulling out of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and barring all inspection of its nuclear facilities.

Western intelligence agencies suspect that Pyongyang has already spirited away enough plutonium to produce one or two crude nuclear devices. Last month the secretive regime raised the stakes by beginning to remove 8,000 fuel rods from an experimental reactor at Yongbyon before the arrival of IAEA inspectors, an operation it completed a few days ago without allowing the inspectors to take samples. That has obliterated the evidence of its past activities, and reprocessing of the waste fuel could produce enough material for four or five more nuclear bombs.

North Korean defiance has prompted the United States to seek sanctions against Pyongyang, which has warned that it will treat their imposition as 'an act of war'. Amid rising tension on the Korean peninsula, South Korea mobilised 6.6 million military reservists for tomorrow's civil defence exercise, which is the country's largest for several years.

Last week the IAEA board, meeting in Vienna, withdrew all co-operation with North Korea's civil nuclear programme, apart from medical help, in response to the regime's persistent refusal over more than a year to allow unhindered inspection of its facilities. Yesterday's statement by Pyongyang's foreign ministry, relayed by the official news agency, said the IAEA had already adopted its own sanctions against North Korea, which it saw as 'a prelude' to UN sanctions.

North Korea said the IAEA secretariat's attempt 'to impose its total inspection on us is an intolerable insult'. The regime said it would counter UN sanctions 'with expanded self-defence measures' but did not elaborate.