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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

North Korea Bars Atomic Inspectors

A hardline statement, stepping up the North's war of words with the International Atomic Energy Agency, came as U.S. President Bill Clinton said it was now clear the isolated Stalinist state was trying to develop nuclear arms.

Speaking on CNN television, Clinton pledged to keep up pressure on North Korea to honor the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The North announced last March it was withdrawing from the treaty, but later suspended the pullout under U.S. pressure.

Clinton said the United States would "continue to work very hard and to be very firm about not wanting Korea to join the family of nuclear states."

In Moscow, meanwhile, Foreign Ministry spokesman Grigory Karasin confirmed Thursday that 10-12 ageing Soviet submarines had been sold to North Korea using a Japanese firm as intermediary. Karasin said they were disused submarines that were stripped of their armament and could not be restored.

"We consider this action as a simple trade transaction of the sort which Russia carries out with other countries," he said in a statement quoted by Itar-Tass. Diplomats said Thursday the 10-12 submarines sold by the Russian Pacific Fleet presented little military threat.

In its tough statement issued Friday and carried by the Korean Central News Agency, the Korean Foreign Ministry said it would be the IAEA's fault if nuclear safeguards on the Korean peninsula broke down.

The statement seemed to be a response to IAEA comments on Thursday that the North wanted to impose unacceptable limits on nuclear inspections.

Spokesman David Kyd said at the IAEA's Vienna headquarters that unless North Korea dropped its conditions, the inspections would not take place.

Taking up the IAEA's complaint that it was being denied access to nuclear sites, the Foreign Ministry's spokesman said his government had agreed with the United States to allow the IAEA back into North Korea after a long delay to check equipment previously set up at its civilian nuclear sites.

He made it clear, however, that North Korea would not allow IAEA experts to resume inspections at the installations nor to enter two undeclared sites. The agency believes these sites conceal nuclear waste that could prove whether an atom bomb program is under way.

"The issue of routine and ad hoc inspection under the safeguards agreement shall be resolved smoothly, if the third round of U.S.-North Korean talks are held and an agreement is reached," it said. "We make it clear that, if the continuity of the safeguards fails to be guaranteed due to the absurd assertion of the IAEA secretariat, we cannot be held responsible," the statement said.

Kyd said Thursday that, although North Korea told the United States it would permit full IAEA inspections , its delegates came to Vienna on Monday seeking to exclude measures.

This involves checking and if necessary replacing batteries and film in on-site monitor cameras, and checking seals on containers of such material.

Kyd said the IAEA also insisted on "measures that we need to allow future verification," so far in vain.

Failure to carry out inspections would seriously set back diplomatic efforts by the United States to end a confrontation with the unpredictable Stalinist state over its nuclear intentions.

Left unresolved, the crisis could trigger a nuclear arms race in Northeast Asia, where both South Korea and Japan have grave fears for their security.

(Reuters, AFP)