VIENNA, Austria – A 137-nation meeting of the atomic watchdog agency demanded on Friday that North Korea (search) scrap nuclear weapons ambitions and urged it to again allow agency inspectors to supervise its return to peaceful activities.
The conference has no authority to enforce its resolutions and North Korea severed its ties with the agency in 2002. Still, the document reflected international concern over North Korea's threats to build nuclear weapons and attempts to use that as a bargaining chip at six-party talks designed to wrest concessions from the United States and others.
International Atomic Energy Agency (search) Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei (search) told the agency's board last week that the nuclear standoff with North Korea posed a "serious challenge" to the global effort to control the spread of atomic weaponry.
He said that — with his agency shut out from North Korea since December 2002 — it cannot say whether the country has diverted sensitive nuclear material to other nations or groups looking to build the bomb.
The crisis began in late 2002 when U.S. officials said North Korea admitted having a nuclear weapons program in violation of a 1994 agreement. The IAEA declared North Korea in violation of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in February 2003.
The United States and its allies suspended oil shipments to the isolated communist country. North Korea in turn expelled IAEA inspectors, disabled the agency's monitoring cameras, withdrew from the global nuclear arms-control treaty and said it would reactivate its main nuclear complex, frozen since 1994.
Six-party talks with North Korea aimed at persuading it to end its nuclear weapons development are on hold. Voicing its latest objection to resuming the talks, the North recently said it would not agree on a new date until South Korea fully discloses details of its recently revealed secret atomic experiments.
Friday's resolution, adopted by consensus, urged the communist country to "completely dismantle any nuclear weapons program in a prompt, transparent, verifiable and irreversible manner."
It said it "deplores" North Korea's decision to break ties with the IAEA and proclaim itself no longer bound by the Nonproliferation Treaty; and called on it to again accept IAEA safeguards meant to oversee its return to peaceful uses of the atom.
The conference, which began Monday, was adjourned until Friday afternoon after agreement on the North Korean resolution to allow back-room consultations on differences between Israel and its Muslim neighbors over the issue of nuclear weapons and the Middle East.
Israel is widely considered to have such weapons even though it has not confirmed owning them. As at most past general conferences, Muslim nations were expected to desist from submitting a resolution condemning Israel's purported "nuclear capacities and threat" in exchange for agreement to keep the issue on the agenda for next year's meeting.
In exchange, Israel was expected to drop opposition to a resolution submitted by Egypt calling for a nuclear-free Middle East.