Fulfilling its reputation as a leading purveyor of diplomatic brinkmanship, North Korea today announced that it is abandoning six-nation nuclear talks for good and is no longer bound by its past commitments to verifiably dismantle its nuclear weapons apparatus.
Pyongyang, which is believed to have the plutonium for perhaps six to eight nuclear bombs, also said it would restart its nuclear facilities, which most likely means a plutonium-producing reactor at Yongbyon. That complex is believed to be dormant and has been watched by United Nations nuclear inspectors. However, the International Atomic Energy Agency said that North Korea is expelling its inspectors and reactivating all nuclear facilities, according to the Associated Press.
North Korea had taken some steps to disable the reactor but has slowed that activity considerably in recent months, apparently to pressure the new Obama administration and other governments to ease up on demands for verifying the country's denuclearization.
The reaction from Pyongyang came in retaliation for a U.N. Security Council statement condemning the recent long-range rocket launch by the North in violation of past U.N. restrictions. That rocket is thought to have carried a communications satellite, but the test of the North's capabilities ended when the last stage of the rocket and its payload fell into the Pacific Ocean.
The Security Council yesterday also vowed to activate a process of identifying North Korean companies and equipment that should be subject to existing U.N. sanctions. Those sanctions, if implemented, aim to constrain the North's work on nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, and any other unconventional weapons programs.
China and Russia lobbied hard to avoid another, higher-profile resolution against Pyongyang. Diplomats at the United Nations in New York had hoped that the agreement on using a carefully worded statement instead would encourage the North to stop short of any reaction that would make reconstituting the stalled talks exceedingly difficult.
Instead, North Korea said the six-party denuclearization talks, started more than five years ago, are now "never to recover." China's appeal for calm went unheeded by the North, as has happened before.
Russian officials quickly called on North Korea to return to negotiations.
Past breakdowns in the talks have followed the North's nuclear test blast in 2006, a dispute over U.S. moves against a foreign bank holding North Korean deposits, and a dispute over getting the North to accept a strong verification plan for its disarmament.
Pyongyang has long favored conducting most of its negotiations directly with Washington, outside of the six-party process. Its gambit this week might be aimed at furthering that goal, even as it seeks to probe for any vulnerabilities in the Obama administration's still-emerging policy on the North.
The White House responded to developments by calling on North Korea to "cease its provocative threats" and to honor its commitments.