An unrepentant North Korea on Wednesday hailed its rocket launch as a historic victory, a day after vowing to restart its nuclear weapons programme in response to UN censure of the exercise. The communist North has ordered UN atomic inspectors to leave the Yongbyon complex, which produced weapons-grade plutonium until it was shut down under a six-nation nuclear disarmament deal.
Incensed by the Security Council's condemnation of its April 5 blast-off, Pyongyang pledged Tuesday never to rejoin six-party talks. It vowed to restore and reopen Yongbyon and to reprocess spent reactor fuel rods.
North Korea "informed IAEA inspectors in the Yongbyon facility that it is immediately ceasing all cooperation with the IAEA," said Marc Vidricaire, spokesman for the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). "It has requested the removal of all containment and surveillance equipment, following which IAEA inspectors will no longer be provided access to the facility," he said. "The inspectors have also been asked to leave the DPRK (North Korea) at the earliest possible time."
The White House said Pyongyang was making a big mistake. "We call on North Korea to cease its provocative threats and to respect the will of the international community and to honour its international commitments and obligations," said spokesman Robert Gibbs. "North Korea's announced threat to withdraw from the six-party talks and restart its nuclear programme is a serious step in the wrong direction."
The six-nation forum, which has been working since 2003, groups the two Koreas, the United States, China, Russia and Japan. The North has previously threatened to quit the tortuous process. But Seoul analysts said the current threat seemed serious and the United States may have to offer direct talks to woo it back to six-party dialogue.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the inspectors' expulsion an "unnecessary response" to a legitimate Security Council statement. "Obviously, we hope that there will be an opportunity to discuss this with not only our partners and allies but also eventually with the North Koreans," she added.
In Pyongyang state media said the mood was festive as the nation marked the Day of the Sun, the anniversary of the birth of founding president Kim Il-Sung.
State media called for unshakeable loyalty to the late founder's son and current ruler Kim Jong-Il, crediting him with what it called a successful satellite launch in defiance of international pressure. The communist party daily Rodong Sinmun praised his "incomparable courage and boldness" and termed the launch a "historic victory."
The North claims it put a peaceful satellite into orbit, while the United States and its allies say it carried out a disguised missile test.
In South Korea, defectors from the North marked the anniversary by floating leaflets across the border calling for the ousting of Kim Jong-Il.Nine defectors released 10 huge balloons carrying 100,000 flyers. These accused Kim of letting people starve so he could develop missiles and urged party cadres to "oppose and topple" him.
The Security Council in a statement on Monday condemned the rocket launch as a violation of a resolution passed after the North's 2006 missile and nuclear tests. It vowed tougher enforcement of sanctions contained in the 2006 resolution.
China and Russia blocked the council from approving a new resolution which would have been binding on members, but the statement was still strong enough to stir Pyongyang's wrath.
China, the North's sole significant ally, urged it to rethink and stay in the six-party talks. Similar appeals came from Japan, South Korea and Russia.