N Korea pulls out of nuclear pact

NORTH KOREA yesterday said it was withdrawing from the Nuclear Non- proliferation Treaty (NPT) in a belligerent announcement which sent shock- waves throughout east Asia.

Japan and South Korea both issued unusually stern condemnations of the decision, which further strengthens fears about the secretive Communist state's nuclear weapons programme. The United States also strongly deplored the decision and said it was consulting with its allies on how to react.

Hitting out at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for demanding more access to North Korean nuclear facilities, Pyongyang said it was withdrawing from the treaty in a 'well- justified self-defensive measure against the nuclear war manoeuvres of the secretariat of the IAEA'. The government statement attacked US 'nuclear threats against North Korea', and demanded that the US military immediately suspend joint military exercises being held with the South Korean army.

A British Foreign Office spokesman said it was too early to consider sanctions against North Korea but added that Britain, one of the three guarantor powers of the NPT, would consider what steps to take with other signatory states. The spokesman declined to say whether Britain would support sanctions against North Korea over its refusal to allow international inspectors into some nuclear installations but said the UN Security Council would consider the move.

This week, Kim Jong Il, the son and anointed heir to President Kim Il Sung, announced that his country was on a 'semi-war footing' because of allegedly aggressive postures by the US, South Korea and the IAEA. Yesterday the vice-minister of foreign affairs, Kang Sok Ju, stepped up this combative rhetoric, saying that North Korea 'will answer strong-arm action with self-defensive measures, and military sanctions with self-reliant defence capabilities'.

The new hard line adopted by North Korea is seen by some as brinkmanship to test the resolve of the recently installed presidents Clinton in Washington and Kim Young Sam in Seoul.

But with the North's economy on its knees, there is concern that Kim Jong Il might want to use an external threat to rally the country around his unpopular leadership. Tension has increased on the Korean peninsula, where only a year ago the two sides signed a non-aggression treaty and talk of reunification was in the air. This year the US military in South Korea quietly reinforced its positions along the demilitarised zone which divides the peninsula.

The Japanese Foreign Minister, Michio Watanabe, said yesterday that North Korea's decision to withdraw from the treaty was a 'challenge to the nuclear non-proliferation regime itself and will have grave repercussions'. The South Korean foreign ministry said it was 'extremely concerned' and added that 'the North's professed reasons for pulling out of the NPT convince no one. This only heightens suspicion that it is developing nuclear arms.'

North Korea has been under pressure for weeks to allow inspectors from the IAEA to visit two sites in its nuclear research complex which might show that plutonium is being produced and stockpiled. Plutonium is a key ingredient in atomic bombs, but Pyongyang has denied that it has produced more than a few grammes, for research.

However, minute samples already given to the IAEA have suggested that larger quantities of plutonium have been produced secretly. For this reason the IAEA is demanding greater access to the nuclear research facilities in Yongbyon, 60 miles north of Pyongyang.

The issue is now likely to come before the UN Security Council, where the position of China will be crucial. China, itself a signatory to the treaty, expressed concern yesterday about North Korea's action. 'China has consistently supported the de-nuclearisation of the Korean peninsula and hopes that the situation in the Korean peninsula will continue to move towards relaxation and stability,' the Foreign Ministry said.

'As for problems that have cropped up at present, China holds that they should be settled properly through consultations in a manner conducive to the universality of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty,' it said.

Chinese diplomats said that Pyongyang had not consulted with China on its decision to withdraw from the treaty. Other diplomats said China is worried about North Korea's sabre-rattling, but finds it difficult to remonstrate out of residual loyalty to Pyongyang. China supplied North Korea with nuclear technology, and is the only country with influence on Pyongyang.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
tvCould Mrs Brown's Boys have taken lead for second year?
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
news
Sport
footballLive! Chelsea vs West Ham kicked off 10 Boxing Day matches, with Arsenal vs QPR closing the action
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all