N Korea digs in over nuclear arms scrutiny

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The Independent Online
TOKYO - North Korea put its nuclear programme further out of reach of international inspectors yesterday, despite an agreement in principle last month with the US which supposedly settled the issue, writes Terry McCarthy.

President Bill Clinton showed signs in a television interview of regretting the current US policy to appease North Korea, which has so far only emboldened the Stalinist regime to demand more con cessions, while giving nothing away from its own side.

North Korea is becoming increasingly defiant of the US and the international community, sensing no one wants a showdown with the Communist state over its nuclear arms project, and calculating that by continuing to hold on to its nuclear trump-card it can extract an ever-expanding list of concessions from Washington.

A harshly worded statement issued by the Korean central news agency yesterday put new obstacles in the way of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which is attempting to verify whether North Korea is engaged in building nuclear weapons. In December the US offered to cancel its annual Team Spirit war exercises with South Korea in exchange for Pyongyang's acceptance of superficial inspections from the IAEA. Further talks were to be held on more comprehensive inspections, in exchange for which North Korea wants diplomatic recognition and financial aid to bail out its economy.

But Pyongyang is now balking at allowing even the most superficial IAEA inspections to go ahead, maintaining that the IAEA is making unreasonable demands: 'If the continuity of the (nuclear) safeguards fails to be guaranteed due to the absurd assertion of the IAEA secretariat, we cannot be held responsible.' The IAEA says North Korea is disputing routine inspections that fall far short of the type of investigations it would need to carry out to ensure no nuclear bombs are being produced.

On US television President Clinton, whose government has up to now been adopting a non-confrontational approach to North Korea, sounded a new note. 'Everybody knows they are trying (to develop nuclear weapons)', Mr Clinton said. But, he added, 'we have to continue to work very hard and to be very firm about not wanting Korea to join the family of nuclear states.'

In its attempt to stop North Korea going nuclear, however, the US has been given little diplomatic support from either China, the only country with influence over Pyongyang, or from South Korea or Japan.