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 Friday, 10 January, 2003, 16:05 GMT
Alarm as North Korea raises nuclear stakes
North Korean leader Kim Jong-il visits Kaechon, west of Pyongyang
Kim Jong-il's decision has profound implications
North Korea has unleashed a storm of international outrage with its announcement it is withdrawing from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT).

US President George W Bush called President Jiang Zemin of China - North Korea's closest ally - to discuss what he said was a "concern to the entire international community".

North Korea's neighbours have also expressed alarm at Pyongyang's decision to break its commitments not to spread nuclear technology.

Despite the dramatic announcement on Friday, Pyongyang has said it does not intend to produce nuclear weapons, saying its nuclear activities were confined to "peaceful purposes such as the production of electricity".

'Not over yet'

In his telephone conversation, President Bush "stressed that the United States has no hostile intentions toward North Korea, and sought a peaceful, multilateral solution to the problem created by Pyongyang's action," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.

President Jiang "reiterated China's commitment to a non-nuclear Korean peninsula," the spokesman said.

The United Nations nuclear agency, the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA), urged North Korea to seek a diplomatic solution, and not to go through with the treaty withdrawal.

The NPT treaty was ratified in 1970
Russia, the US, Britain, France and China are designated "nuclear armed states"
There are 187 signatories
India, Pakistan and Israel have not signed treaty
"There's still an opportunity for diplomacy. It's not over until it's over," said spokesman Mark Gwozdecky.

The news is now expected to dominate talks between the head of the IAEA, Mohamed El Baradei, US Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice later on Friday.

Talks have also been going on between two North Korean diplomats and a former US ambassador, Bill Richardson, which the American envoy described as "cordial but candid".

The meeting is not officially sponsored by the Bush administration but has its support.

'Life and death'

South Korea has urged its northern neighbour to reverse the decision, saying the withdrawal was a "serious threat to peace".

The country's President Kim Dae-Jung, who has advocated engagement with the North, said that North Korea had at one step made a bad situation worse.

Mr Kim said that the nuclear issue was a "matter of life and death" and one that could only be resolved through dialogue.

Satellite photo of the Yongbyon plant (AFP)
16 Oct: N Korea acknowledges secret nuclear programme, US says
14 Nov: Oil shipments to N Korea halted
22 Dec: N Korea removes monitoring devices at Yongbyon nuclear plant
26 Dec: UN says 1,000 fuel rods have been moved to the plant
31 Dec: UN nuclear inspectors leave North Korea
6 Jan: IAEA demands inspectors be readmitted and secret weapons programme halted
7 Jan: US "willing to talk" to North Korea
10 Jan: N Korea pulls out of nuclear treaty

A joint statement from Japan and Russia, two crucial regional powers, also expressed "disappointment and profound concern" at North Korea's move.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi - on a visit to Moscow - said he would demand that North Korea reverse the decision.

Our correspondent in Tokyo says the withdrawal is seen as a serious escalation by diplomats there - one that could have a profound impact on security in the entire region.

He adds that it is expected that Tokyo will take a hard line if conciliation attempts do not work, perhaps introducing sanctions - a move described by North Korea as tantamount to a declaration of war.

The European Union has expressed "grave concern" urging the Stalinist state to reconsider the decision.

France, which holds the rotating presidency of the United Nations Security Council, said the UN would need to address North Korea's withdrawal from the nuclear treaty.

And the British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw "deplored" the decision, saying it would "only increase North Korea's isolation from the international community".

International concern over North Korea's intentions has been growing since it expelled two United Nations inspectors last month, and re-activated some of its nuclear facilities at Yongbyon.

Yongbyon: Five-megawatt experimental nuclear power reactor and a partially completed plutonium extraction facility. Activities at site frozen under 1994 Agreed Framework
Taechon: 200-MWt nuclear power reactor - construction halted under Agreed Framework
Pyongyang: Laboratory-scale "hot cells" that may have been used to extract small quantities of plutonium
Kumho: Two 1,000-MWt light water reactors being built under Agreed Framework

  The BBC's James Robbins
"An unstable country racked by famine"
  Dan Plesch, London's Royal United Services Institute
"Pyongyang is entirely entitled to withdraw from the treaty"

Nuclear tensions

Inside North Korea

Divided peninsula

See also:

10 Jan 03 | Asia-Pacific
10 Jan 03 | Asia-Pacific
10 Jan 03 | Asia-Pacific
09 Jan 03 | Asia-Pacific
08 Jan 03 | Asia-Pacific
07 Jan 03 | Media reports
07 Jan 03 | Asia-Pacific
13 Dec 02 | Asia-Pacific
10 Jan 03 | Asia-Pacific
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