FORMER United States President Jimmy Carter crossed the heavily armed border with North Korea yesterday to begin a four-day visit. His trip, although private, was endorsed by the Clinton administration and is seen as part of a US effort to convince the hard-line North it is on a collision course over its nuclear program. The North insists its nuclear research is peaceful, but refuses to permit full UN inspections.
North Korea yesterday officially informed the International Atomic Energy Agency it was withdrawing from the United Nations nuclear watchdog and would allow no further inspections, IAEA officials said.
The United States policy coordinator on the issue said yesterday, however, that North Korea was still letting international inspectors carry out routine monitoring at its Yongbyon nuclear plant.
``At the moment, and I do mean at the moment, we understand that the inspectors had a day of inspection,'' said Assistant Secretary of State Robert Gallucci, the US policy coordinator on the issue. ``They have been allowed to do what they wanted to do...''
The IAEA says North Korea still has a legal obligation as a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to permit inspections of its atomic plants. US State Department spokesman Mike McCurry said Washington would circulate a draft resolution at the UN to impose phased sanctions against the North.
Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev indicated yesterday that Russia would agree to sanctions as a last resort. ``But we think they should be introduced step-by-step and viewed as an extreme measure,'' he said.
China yesterday deplored the IAEA's suspension of aid to North Korea and the North's subsequent decision to quit the IAEA. The statement appeared to indicate China's stance had hardened since the weekend, when Foreign Minister Qian Qichen was quoted as saying China ``regretted'' the IAEA's decision to cut aid.
The South Korean defense minister announced yesterday that ``the government has drawn up a strategy under which instant and strong retaliation will be carried out to counter any abrupt North Korean military provocation.'' But Defense Ministry spokesman Rhee Byoung-tae said the South had detected no specific signs of provocation by the North.