The International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna announced that North Korea had barred international inspectors from a reprocessing plant at its nuclear reactor complex in Yongbyon. The agency said that North Korea, which tested its first nuclear device in 2006 and is believed to have enough plutonium for at least six nuclear bombs, intended to resume production of nuclear weapons-grade fuel there within a week.
North Korea's move to resume the reprocessing of plutonium left the country on the verge of restarting a nuclear weapons program whose shutdown had been portrayed by the White House as a significant diplomatic achievement. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that the United States still hoped to preserve a hard-won agreement that called for the North to dismantle its nuclear reactor.
While reversible in theory, any resumption of nuclear work would violate the terms of the agreement, which was announced with fanfare in June and solidified, it appeared, by North Korea's public demolition of a cooling tower at Yongbyon.
North Korea's actions have at best returned negotiations to where they stood months ago, leaving little time for a resolution before the next American administration takes office in January.
[International Herald Tribune]