North Korea vowed Tuesday to restart its nuclear reactor and to boycott international disarmament talks for good in retaliation for the U.N. Security Council's condemnation of its rocket launch.
Russia, voicing regret over the move, urged Pyongyang to return to the negotiating table. Its Foreign Ministry called the U.N. statement "legitimate and well-balanced," and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said all sides must stick to the current disarmament process. China, North Korea's main ally, appealed for calm.
In Washington, the White House called on North Korea to "cease its provocative threats" and respect the will of the international community. Press secretary Robert Gibbs said that Pyongyang's moves are "a serious step in the wrong direction."
As Gibbs spoke, the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna said North Korea was expelling its inspectors and has announced it is reactivating all of its nuclear facilities. The agency said North Korea has told inspectors to remove seals and cameras from the Yongbyon nuclear site and leave the country as quickly as possible.
All 15 members of the Security Council, including Beijing and Moscow, agreed to condemn the April 5 missile launch as a violation of U.N. resolutions and to tighten sanctions against the regime. The U.N. statement was weaker than the resolution Japan and the United States had pursued.
North Korea claims it sent a communications satellite into space as part of a peaceful bid to develop its space program. The U.S. and others call the launch an illicit test of the technology used to fire an intercontinental ballistic missile, even one eventually destined for the U.S.
A Security Council resolution passed in 2006, days after North Korea carried out an underground nuclear test, prohibits Pyongyang from engaging in any ballistic missile-related activity — including launching rockets that use the same delivery technology as missiles mounted with warheads, Washington and other nations say.
North Korea, following through on earlier threats to withdraw from international disarmament talks if the council so much as criticized the launch, announced Tuesday it would boycott them. Since 2003, envoys from six nations — the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Russia and Japan — have been meeting in Beijing for sporadic negotiations on getting Pyongyang to give up its nuclear program in exchange for aid and other concessions.
"The six-party talks have lost the meaning of their existence, never to recover," the North's Foreign Ministry said in a statement, declaring it would never participate in the talks again and is no longer bound to previous agreements.
Under a 2007 six-party deal, North Korea agreed to disable its main nuclear complex in Yongbyon north of Pyongyang — a key step toward dismantlement — in return for 1 million tons of fuel oil and other concessions. Disablement began later that year.
In June 2008, North Korea famously 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.
On Tuesday, North Korea said it would restart nuclear facilities, an apparent reference to its plutonium-producing reactor at Yongbyon. North Korea already is believed to have enough plutonium to produce at least half a dozen atomic bombs.
David Albright, whose Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security tracks suspected secret proliferators, said he hadn't heard anything about U.S. nuclear experts and IAEA monitors ordered out of Yongbyon, but also suggested such a move would not necessarily amount to a crisis.
"Worse things have happened. It's the easiest thing North Korea can do to express its anger," he said.
"You can't just turn on a reactor in a couple weeks. They could test a nuclear device, but it would be such an escalation that the parties-that-be internationally would have to respond negatively. Kicking out the monitors is something that easily can be reversed and not cause that much harm."
He said it would take fuel-deficient North Korea six months to a year to restart the reactor.