The State Department confirms North Korea is expelling U.S. monitors from its Yongbyon nuclear complex along with International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors. The Obama administration says North Korea's announced decision to leave nuclear talks and restart the nuclear facility is a step backwards.
U.S. officials say the expulsion notice was delivered to the team of U.S. experts at the Yongbyon facility Tuesday at about the same time the IAEA inspectors were told they are being evicted.
The action means the Yongbyon reactor complex, where the plutonium for North Korea's presumed small arsenal of nuclear weapons was produced, will be without international monitoring for the first time in nearly two years.
North Korea announced Tuesday it is leaving the Chinese-sponsored six-party talks on its nuclear program and will restart its plutonium facility at Yongbyon in response to a U.N. Security Council statement condemning its April 5 launch of a long-range ballistic missile.
State Department Acting spokesman Robert Wood said the U.S. team, of "several" nuclear experts, was told to leave the site immediately.
He said the expulsion is obviously a matter of concern to the United States and a step backward, and that North Korea has only brought upon itself further isolation.
"The international community has offered the North a path to get back in the good graces of the international community," Wood said. "And a step like the one it took yesterday is not helpful, is not going to lead to a resolution of these outstanding issues. We all have that goal of trying to bring about a denuclearized Korean Peninsula. We want to see that happen. But again the North took this decision. It is going to have to deal with the consequences that flow from that decision."
North Korea says it was within its rights to conduct the missile launch, which it insists put a satellite into orbit, and that the Security Council statement condemning it was an "unbearable insult."
U.S. officials say no part of the three-stage rocket reached orbit and the launching was a thinly-disguised test of a long-range ballistic missile that was banned under a 2006 U.N. resolution.
Under questioning, spokesman Wood said the ensuing North Korean retaliation was not a failure of U.S. diplomacy, but a failure by Pyongyang to live up to its international obligations.
A senior State Department official said the United States is in contact with other participants in the six-party process on how to get North Korea back to the negotiating table.
Pyongyang agreed in principle in 2005 to scrap its nuclear program, including weapons, in return for aid and diplomatic benefits.
It shut down and partially dismantled the Yongbyon reactor, including the televised demolition of its cooling tower in May of last year. Nuclear experts have said it would take several months to get the facility operating again.