NEW YORK // The White House warned today that North Korea would isolate itself from the world community if it backtracks and reactivates a plant that once provided plutonium for an atomic test explosion. North Korea barred UN nuclear inspectors from its main nuclear reactor today, and within a week it plans to reactivate the plant that once provided the plutonium for the explosive test two years ago, the chief UN nuclear inspector said.
"The North Korean actions are very disappointing," said White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe from New York, where the US president, George W Bush, was attending his final UN General Assembly. Mr Johndroe said North Korea's actions run counter to the "six-party talks," the process by which North Korea agreed to pursue nuclear disarmament in exchange for diplomatic concessions and aid. Beyond the United States and North Korea, the other parties in those talks are South Korea, China, Russia and Japan. "We strongly urge the North to reconsider these steps and come back immediately into compliance with its obligations," Mr Johndroe said.
Coming amid reports that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il suffered a stroke, the nuclear reversal has fuelled worries about a breakdown of international attempts to coax the North out of its confrontational isolation with most of the rest of the world. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that North Korea's actions to reactivate its nuclear plant did not mean an end to six-party nuclear talks but deepened Pyongyang's isolation.
"By no means," said Rice when asked whether North Korea's latest actions spelt an end to disablement negotiations. "We have been through ups and downs in this process before," she added. Ms Rice said she had met this week with China's foreign minister as well as South Korea's to discuss how to proceed with the latest North Korean actions and would be seeing Russia's foreign minister later today. "Everyone knows what the path ahead is. The path ahead is for there to be agreement on a verification protocol so that we can continue along the path of the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula," Ms Rice said.
"The North Koreans know that and so we will continue working with our partners on what steps we might need to take," she concluded. * Agencies