North Korea's three month waiting period to withdraw from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty expired Friday, but questions on its status remain. Neighbor Japan says it still considers Pyongyang to be bound by the terms of the international pact because it did not follow proper procedures to quit.
Amid escalating tensions over North Korea's growing nuclear violations, Pyongyang announced it would pull out of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty on January 10, just weeks after expelling U.N. monitors.
North Korea, the first country to withdraw since the accord went into effect in 1970, said the action was effective immediately - ignoring treaty provisions for a three-month waiting period.
Friday, Japan cast doubt on the validity of Pyongyang's treaty exit. Under the NPT, any of the 188 signatory nations can renounce participation within 90 days of notifying the U.N. Security Council and all the party states.
But Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said Japan received no such official notification and still considers North Korea an NPT signatory. Mr. Fukuda said there does not appear to be international consensus that North Korea has withdrawn from the NPT. He said the Japanese government will continue to ask Pyongyang to observe the treaty, abandon nuclear weapons development and halt operations at such facilities to resolve the nuclear problem peacefully.
The treaty allows nations to withdraw due to a special change in circumstance that could threaten their national interest.
North Korea has repeatedly said it fears hostile U.S. policy toward the communist state will lead to aggression and it needs to protect itself. But Pyongyang has not acknowledged possessing or pursuing nuclear weapons, only that it has the right to them.
The United States in October confronted North Korea with evidence of a secret uranium enrichment program that could be used to build arms, sparking an international crisis and North Korea publicly reactivating banned nuclear facilities.
China, Russia, South Korea, Japan and the United States committed to months of diplomacy, but have yet to succeed in getting Pyongyang to keep all its international obligations to be a nuclear free state.
The issue went to the U.N. Security Council Wednesday, where discussion could lead to sanctions. But no agreement emerged on how to deal with North Korea.
Friday, North Korea did not address the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. But state-controlled media again said that the situation in Iraq shows North Korea needs a strong military deterrent against U.S. aggression.
The official Korean Central News Agency repeated that Pyongyang would not allow international nuclear inspectors back in the country because that would force it to disarm.