BEIJING – North Korea could restart its nuclear facilities within months, the head of the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog warned Monday, but he added he was optimistic that negotiations on halting Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions could be revived.
International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed El-Baradei said Monday "it could be a question of months" when asked how soon North Korea could restart its nuclear facilities.
North Korea vowed last week to restart its nuclear program and quit six-nation disarmament talks because the U.N. Security Council criticized its April 5 rocket launch as a violation of resolutions barring it from ballistic missile-related activity.
North Korea told the IAEA on Tuesday it would reactivate all its facilities and go ahead with the reprocessing of spent fuel.
However, El-Baradei said he was hopeful that openness shown by the United States under the Obama administration would help restart international talks with North Korea.
"While I am distressed because, of course, what has happened in North Korea is a setback, I am optimistic about the new environment," he said, and pointed to Washington's new openness to dialogue with countries such as North Korea and Iran — countries whose nuclear ambitions have alarmed the international community.
He said his personal view was that the only way to resolve such issues was "not through flexing muscles, not necessarily only to go to the Security Council, but to try to address the root causes and engage in mutual dialogue based on mutual respect."
"If you develop a package for North Korea based on assurance of security, economic assistance, human rights, I would hope that North Korea would come back to the fold and again come back to the nonproliferation treaty," he said.
Under a 2007 six-party deal, North Korea agreed to disable its main nuclear complex in Yongbyon north of Pyongyang in return for 1 million tons of fuel oil and other concessions. In June 2008, North Korea blew up the cooling tower at Yongbyon in a dramatic show of its commitment to denuclearization.
But disablement came to halt a month later as Pyongyang wrangled with Washington over how to verify its 18,000-page account of past atomic activities. The latest round of talks, in December, failed to push the process forward.