New deadline set for check on suspected atomic waste plants

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VIENNA (Reuter) - North Korea has been given until 31 March to yield to international demands to allow inspectors to check two military sites suspected of being nuclear waste plants, the United Nations' nuclear agency said yesterday .

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) last month gave Pyongyang a 25 March deadline to meet its demands but was now proposing the new date, an IAEA spokesman said.

The director-general of the IAEA, Hans Blix, was to meet the agency's board of governors yesterday in an emergency session to discuss Pyongyang's refusal to let observers check the sites at Yongbyon, 60 miles north of the capital.

But the board, made up of 35 member-states including the United States and China, is unlikely to refer the dispute to the UN Security Council at the end of this session. 'The board will set another meeting for the end of the month to see if North Korea is showing any further flexibility,' the spokesman said.

North Korea is the first country to withdraw from the arms limitation treaty and the West will be determined to take a firm line to discourage other would-be nuclear powers from doing the same. But few diplomats expected Pyongyang to pull out of the treaty altogether.

Pyongyang signed a non-nuclear pact with South Korea in 1991 and agreed last year to allow scheduled inspections by the IAEA, which made six visits. But a row began when Pyongyang refused to allow IAEA inspectors into the Yongbyon complex, believed by some experts to be sites used to store nuclear waste for re-processing of plutonium.

Newspaper reports have said diplomats have made clear to North Korea that investigators know it has been producing plutonium from its nuclear waste for at least three years, enough time to produce one or more nuclear weapons.