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N. KOREA BLAMES U.N. FOR CRISIS OVER PLUTONIUM

SHARE N. KOREA BLAMES U.N. FOR CRISIS OVER PLUTONIUM

North Korea on Thursday blamed the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency for the crisis over the secretive removal of plutonium from a nuclear reactor.

The International Atomic Energy Agency "failed to send a group of inspectors until refueling began, thus openly neglecting its duty as an international organization," an unnamed North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman said in an official Korean Central News Agency report.The spokesman also said his country would defy any U.N. sanctions over the action, which could destroy evidence of whether North Korea is trying to use the nuclear fuel in a weapons program. The report was monitored in Tokyo.

North Korea says its nuclear program is peaceful, but there is wide suspicion that plutonium derived from spent nuclear reactor fuel is being diverted for use in a weapons program.

IAEA inspectors arrived May 17, but they were unable to agree with North Korea on inspection procedures. Over the weekend, the inspectors reported that North Korea was unloading spent fuel rods so quickly that within days it may be impossible to determine what was being done with any plutonium.

North Korean Ambassador to Thailand Li Do Sop said Thursday in Bangkok that the fuel had to be removed for safety and technical reasons.

At "this moment it is technically impossible to stop" the removal, he said.

He said officials want to replace fuel rods and properly reactivate the reactor before winter because surrounding communities depend on it for heat and electricity.

North Korea says it has a way to let inspectors measure the plutonium to make sure it has not been diverted.