SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA – For the third time since they entered North Korea in 1992, inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have switched off the cameras and stripped the seals from the locks on the five-megawatt reactor at North Korea’s nuclear complex at Yongbyon.
The three IAEA inspectors were then driven 60 miles south to Pyongyang, where they boarded planes Thursday to Beijing. North Korea ordered them out on Tuesday after the UN Security Council condemned the North for launching a long-range Taepodong-2 missile on April 5.
Their departure ended the latest era of hope that North Korea would abandon its nuclear program.
Almost simultaneously, South Korea is planning to join the Proliferation Security Initiative, a multination effort to stop shipment of nuclear materiel and technology to and from North Korea and other nations. “North Korea is one of the potential proliferators of weapons of mass destruction,” a South Korean foreign ministry official said Thursday. “Our decision to join PSI is firm and clear.”
The IAEA sent inspectors to Yongbyon in July 2007, five months after the North agreed in six-party talks to begin abandoning the program. A separate American team has also been in and out since late that year, and was also ordered out by North Korea. The last four American experts were preparing to leave.
The IAEA first sent inspectors to the site in May 1992, eight years after North Korea joined the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. IAEA inspectors left nearly a year later after failing to get access to all they wanted to see at Yongbyon.
IAEA inspectors returned under the Geneva agreement of October 1994. The agreement broke down in October 2002 after the US charged North Korea had a program for enriching uranium elsewhere. North Korea then expelled the IAEA.
The inspectors left this time as the nation celebrated the birthday of the previous president, "Great Leader" Kim Il Sung, who died in July 1994. His son Kim Jong Il, known as the "Dear Leader," appeared briefly at a fireworks display, waving as citizens cheered him and the launch of the missile.
Mr. Kim reportedly suffered a stroke in August, and the missile failed to put a satellite into orbit as claimed.