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NORTH KOREA Issue is sent to Security Council



Published: Fri, February 14, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



Russia denounced the U.N. nuclear agency's decision as provocative and pointless.

VIENNA, Austria (AP) -- Raising the stakes in the nuclear standoff with North Korea, the U.N. nuclear agency reported the reclusive communist country to the Security Council for violating its international obligations.

The International Atomic Energy Agency's 35-nation board of governors made the decision -- its last resort after months of intransigence by Pyongyang -- in an emergency closed-door session today in the afternoon at the agency's headquarters in Vienna.

Russia and Cuba abstained from the vote, which sets the stage for possible sanctions. North Korea has not met its obligations under international nuclear accords, and the U.N. watchdog agency said it "remains unable to verify that there has been no diversion of nuclear material" for weapons use.

The IAEA urged the North to comply but also said it "in parallel stresses its desire for a peaceful resolution of the nuclear issue and its support for diplomatic means to that end."

A provocation?

Russia spoke out strongly earlier today against sending the dispute to the Security Council, calling it pointless and provocative.

"In the current crisis situation on the Korean peninsula, it would be counterproductive and capable only of provoking a negative reaction from Pyongyang," Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Losyukov said today.

But agency director-general Mohamed ElBaradei, who gave the board a report last month saying North Korea is not keeping its promises, had made it clear that the IAEA had little choice and felt it had been backed into a corner.

The crisis began in October, when U.S. officials said North Korea admitted having a nuclear weapons program in violation of a 1994 agreement.

The United States and its allies suspended oil shipments to the impoverished communist country. North Korea in turn expelled IAEA inspectors, disabled the agency's monitoring cameras, withdrew from a global nuclear arms-control treaty and said it would reactivate its main nuclear complex, frozen since 1994.

Delays on decision

The nuclear agency's board had been expected to refer the dispute to the Security Council at its last emergency meeting Jan. 6. Instead, hoping to give diplomacy a final chance to ease the standoff, the agency urged North Korea to seek a diplomatic solution and reverse its withdrawal from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Today's meeting originally was set for last week but was postponed at the urging of South Korea, which has launched an all-out diplomatic effort to ease tensions on the populous peninsula.

Formally reporting North Korea to the Security Council is a grave diplomatic step opening the way for economic sanctions or other punitive measures against the country. But it was unclear whether the council would support such action, which Pyongyang has made clear it would regard as an act of war.

International views

The United States has not specifically said it would seek sanctions and continues to press hard for a diplomatic solution. Russia and China, two permanent Security Council members with veto power, are seen as unlikely to back sanctions.

"I don't think it is the moment to do sanctions," Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy chief, told reporters today in Seoul. "I do think that sanctions will contribute to the opposite of what we want to obtain, which is defusing of the crisis."




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