VIENNA - A second nuclear test by North Korea has wasted a long-awaited chance for progress in global nuclear disarmament and rekindled a climate of confrontation, the head of the U.N. atomic watchdog said on Monday.
Mohamed ElBaradei said he was alarmed North Korea carried out a second test soon after ordering International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors to remove all monitoring equipment from its nuclear facilities and leave the country.
I deeply regret this, particularly at a time when the prospects for progress on nuclear disarmament are far better than they have been at any time in the recent past, ElBaradei said in a speech kicking off a weeklong meeting of the IAEA's 35-nation Board of Governors.
This is a wrong step in the wrong direction which has again created an environment of confrontation.
Since quitting six-party denuclearization talks in April, North Korea has raised global tensions by test-firing missiles, reviving a plant to produce arms-grade plutonium and conducting a nuclear test, putting it closer to a working atomic bomb.
It has been a hard blow to the non-proliferation regime at a time of new diplomatic outreach by U.S. President Barack Obama.
A joint statement by Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev highlighted the need to rid the world of nuclear arsenals starting in their own backyards.
ElBaradei hailed this as a potential new era of arms control that would shore up the disarmament and non-proliferation regimes. He urged parties to coax North Korea back into the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which it quit in 2003.
In further provocations, North Korea said at the weekend that it would start a uranium enrichment program and weaponize all its plutonium in response to toughened sanctions adopted by the U.N. Security Council on Friday.
The mercurial Stalinist state also threatened military action if Washington and its allies tried to isolate it.
(Reporting by Sylvia Westall; Editing by Mark Heinrich)