VIENNA - International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors turned off surveillance cameras and left the site of North Korea's nuclear bomb program on Pyongyang's demand on Wednesday, a diplomat close to the IAEA told Reuters.
The U.N. nuclear watchdog's four-person team in North Korea was likely to leave the country on Thursday, he said, two days after Pyongyang ordered their expulsion in a furious response to a U.N. condemnation of its launching of a long-range rocket.
The reclusive Stalinist state said it was ditching six-party talks on completing a nuclear disarmament process agreed in 2007 and would reactivate a plant in its Yongbyon nuclear complex that produces plutonium for nuclear weapons.
The U.S. State Department said Pyongyang had told a separate U.S. team that had been observing the Yongbyon shutdown to get out of the country as well, and they were preparing to go. This is a step backwards, spokesman Robert Wood told reporters.
The diplomat, familiar with the Vienna-based IAEA's North Korea operations, said U.N. inspectors had ceased all duties monitoring Yongbyon's shutdown, removed agency seals on equipment there and turned cameras to face walls.
REPRISE OF 2002 EXPULSION
They are now out of Yongbyon, still in Pyongyang but preparing to leave, probably tomorrow. It is essentially a replay of 2002, he said.
North Korea re-admitted IAEA non-proliferation monitors in 2007 to verify its dismantling of Yongbyon under a six-party disarmament accord, 4-1/2 years after expelling them over U.S. accusations that it had a secret uranium-enrichment program.
Pyongyang kicked them out again this week after the Security Council chastised it over a rocket launch the North Koreans described as a peaceful inauguration of a satellite but which others believe was a disguised ballistic missile test.
IAEA monitors were also ejected from the plutonium plant last September, but allowed back in the following month after North Korea cut a deal with Washington that temporarily finessed disputes over how to verify denuclearization.
North Korea told the IAEA on Tuesday that it had decided to revive all its Yongbyon facilities including the reprocessing plant that turns spent fuel rods into plutonium, the kernel of its atomic bomb program.
Nuclear experts have said North Korea could have the plant operating again in as little as three months.
The Security Council unanimously condemned the long-range rocket firing on April 5 as a violation of a U.N. ban and demanded that existing sanctions against the isolated, impoverished East Asian country be fully enforced.
Pyongyang began taking apart its Soviet-era Yongbyon complex more than a year ago as a part of a disarmament-for-aid pact with China, Russia, the United States, Japan and South Korea.
Yongbyon consisted of a 5-megawatt reactor, a fuel fabrication facility and a plutonium reprocessing plant.