North Korea says it is expelling International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors, the latest move Pyongyang has taken in its effort to reactivate its illegal nuclear program.
South Korean media, quoting the official North Korea Central News Agency, say Pyongyang is expelling the only two U.N. inspectors from the country.
In effect, the move deprives the International Atomic Energy Agency of the ability to determine if the communist North is using its nuclear facilities to develop weapons.
In the past several weeks, North Korea has removed U.N. monitoring devices from its Yongbyon plant, unsealed the reactors, moved fuel rods to an on-site storage facility and opened a reprocessing plant. U.N. experts have warned this means North Korea could produce plutonium for nuclear arms.
Pyongyang remained defiant Friday, saying that the United States is rushing headlong into an extremely dangerous confrontation with the North. North Korea called U.S.-led demands for it to scrap its nuclear program a "pipe dream".
North Korea claims it needs to restart the Yongbyon reactor, frozen under a 1994 non-proliferation accord with the United States, to obtain electricity after the United States and its allies halted oil shipments for what it said were other nuclear violations.
Friday, South Korea's president-elect denounced North Korea for moves to reactivate the nuclear program.
Roh Moo-hyun warned the North that its defiance of non-proliferation agreements could make it tough for him to continue South Korea's engagement policy after he takes office. He said without engagement, the North would not be able to revive its collapsed economy and end its diplomatic isolation.
Japan is also continuing its daily calls for the North to maintain a freeze on all of its nuclear facilities.
At a news conference, Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi said North Korea's nuclear ambitions remain a global problem requiring close cooperation with other countries and the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Japan and South Korea have been coordinating with their ally, the United States, to pressure North Korea back into compliance.
Australia also expresses concern, saying Friday, it has canceled plans to open an embassy in the communist state.