US stays firm over N Korea

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The Independent Online
NORTH KOREA'S decision yesterday to withdraw from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and bar all inspection of its facilities drew a firm reaction from the United States.

The US ambassador at the United Nations, Madeleine Albright, said North Korea 'should not doubt the US and international resolve' to ensure its compliance with international nuclear safeguards agreements.

Pyongyang, which last year gave notice that it would quit the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), then suspended its withdrawal, said yesterday it had not yet reached a decision.

Ms Albright said she would be consulting UN Security Council members in the next couple of days on putting together a draft resolution on sanctions, but bargaining could drag on for several weeks, because of Chinese resistance. It was not clear yesterday whether Pyongyang's fresh defiance would weaken the support it receives from Peking, almost its only ally and trading partner. North Korea yesterday defended China's nuclear test last week, and argued that other states need atomic weapons to defend against what it called the US nuclear threat.

In Tokyo, an official was quoted as saying that North Korea's move may make sanctions against it more likely. 'The situation may change drastically,' the government source was quoted as saying.

Japan's Foreign Minister, Koji Kakizawa, visited Seoul and Peking over the weekend to seek a solution to the dispute.

Jimmy Carter, the former US President, arrived in Seoul yesterday on a private mediation mission. Tomorrow he will cross into North Korea for a four-day visit.

North Korea has repeatedly warned that it will regard sanctions as 'an act of war', and has threatened South Korea and Japan in an apparent attempt to separate them from Washington. In response, Seoul has extended tomorrow's regular civil defence exercise in the capital to the whole country, and mobilised almost all army reservists under the age of 50 to take part.