Canberra Shelves Plans for Embassy in North Korea

Australia has shelved plans to open an embassy in North Korea amid rising tensions over the communist state's moves to reactivate its nuclear weapons program, the government said Friday.

Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer said the government has told North Korea that restoring full diplomatic links could not proceed while the regime refused to comply with nuclear nonproliferation obligations.

"We have put all of our further evolution of our relationship with North Korea on hold," Downer told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio. "So we won't be opening an embassy in Pyongyang for the time being."

Australia had planned to open an embassy there within the next six months. North Korea already has an embassy in Canberra.

Downer said that as Australia was only one of the few nations which maintained relations with North Korea, continued dialogue was important.

"I think it is better to talk than not to talk with these countries," he said. "Certainly we will be continuing to discuss these problems with the North Koreans."

North Korea has recently moved fresh fuel rods to a storage facility at its main nuclear reactor in Yongbyon, and said it was restarting the plant only to generate electricity.

Downer said Australia was committed to working with the United States, China, Russia, Japan and South Korea to resolve the crisis.

The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper reported Friday that North Korea's ambassador to Australia, Chon Jae-hong, would be told of the decision to shelve the embassy within the next few days.