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U.S. nuclear experts pull out of North Korea

U.S. monitors of North Korea's nuclear program left the communist nation Friday after the regime ordered them out and vowed to restart its reactor in anger over U.N. criticism of its rocket launch.
AS China North Korea Missile
A U.S. nuclear expert, pushing luggage cart, is escorted by a Chinese police officer at the Beijing airport in Beijing Friday, after leaving North Korea.Ng Han Guan / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

U.S. monitors of North Korea's nuclear program left the communist nation Friday after the regime ordered them out and vowed to restart its reactor in anger over U.N. criticism of its recent rocket launch.

The four Americans arrived in Beijing on a flight from Pyongyang but declined to speak to reporters. Their departure came a day after U.N. nuclear inspectors left the North.

The pullout of all international inspectors leaves the global community with no onsite means to monitor North Korea's nuclear facilities, which can yield weapons-grade plutonium if restarted.

North Korea vowed earlier this 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.

Pyongyang says the liftoff was a peaceful satellite launch, but other nations believe it was a test of its missile technology.

Talks in doubt
The North's angry reaction threw prospects for the already-stalled disarmament talks into further doubt. The United States, China, Japan and South Korea and Russia have urged the North to return to the negotiating table, but it has not responded.

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov plans to visit North Korea next week, a duty officer at the Foreign Ministry in Moscow confirmed, saying more information about the trip will be released Monday. The officer spoke on condition of anonymity in line with policy.

South Korea's Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported Friday that Lavrov plans to visit Pyongyang around April 24 and is likely to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and deliver a letter from Russian President Dmitri Medvedev. The newspaper cited unidentified Russian officials.

Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said Beijing will work to continue the six-nation disarmament talks and "hopes for the development of and improvement in relations between the United States and North Korea," according to an interview in Japan's Nihon Keizai newspaper.

China is North Korea's only major ally but backed the U.N. rebuke. In his interview, Yang did not appear to directly criticize North Korea over the launch, but said it should offer an explanation.

"North Korea announced a satellite launch," he said. "It is appropriate for North Korea to explain why it took the action."

U.S. won't pursue direct talks
Separately, Kyodo News agency reported that the United States won't pursue direct talks with North Korea at the expense of the six-party talks.

Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg made the comment Thursday to Seiji Maehara, a top official in Japan's main opposition Democratic Party, Kyodo reported from Washington.

Steinberg also told Maehara that the United States will call for talks with China, Japan, Russia and South Korea by the end of this month on how to deal with North Korea, it said.

Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency left North Korea on Thursday after removing all seals and switching off surveillance cameras, the IAEA said.

North Korea conducted a nuclear test in 2006 but later agreed to dismantle its nuclear program in return for shipments of fuel oil under a 2007 six-nation deal. The process has been stalled since last year by a dispute over how to verify North Korea's past nuclear activities.

North renews accusations
Later Friday, the North renewed routine accusations that South Korea and the United States are plotting an attack.

"When a nuclear war will break out due to the war chariot of the 'South Korea-U.S. military alliance' is a matter of time," the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.

As tensions ran high in the lead up to the North's launch, Pyongyang detained two American reporters, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, journalists working for former Vice President Al Gore's San Francisco-based Current TV.

Reporters with Borders called for their immediate release on Friday — one month since they were arrested for allegedly crossed the border from China while reporting on North Korean refugees.

Paris-based Reporters Without Borders called for their immediate release.

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