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IAEA Chief Appeals to North Korea to Allow in International Experts  - 2004-09-19

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency is calling for North Korea to allow international experts into the country to completely verify that a large cloud recently spotted over the country was not caused by a nuclear explosion.

IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei pointed to conclusions by U.S. officials and others that a huge cloud spotted earlier this month over North Korea was not caused by a nuclear event. But he told CNN's Late Edition he feels Pyongyang should allow international experts into the country to make an absolute verification of North Korea's claim that the cloud was not caused by any nuclear explosion.

"I think I would like to go there. Our experts would go there. If North Korea would like to exclude that possibility [of a nuclear blast] completely, they would be well-advised to allow us and other experts to go and inspect that," he said. "As long as we are not there, I cannot exclude that possibility 100 percent."

Mr. ElBaradei said he could not confirm whether North Korea has conducted a nuclear weapons test. But he added that he has no doubt that North Korea has the ability to produce nuclear weapons.

"They have the fissile material. They have the industrial infrastructure," said Mr. ElBaradei. "Whether they need to go for a test, or whether they do a computer simulation, the fact remains that they are a nuclear capable country."

The IAEA head said he wouldn't be surprised if Pyongyang has produced nuclear weapons, especially since IAEA inspectors were kicked out of North Korea in 2002.

"I know for sure that North Korea has the plutonium that they need for a nuclear weapon," he said. "I know for sure that we have been away for two years, without any inspection in North Korea. so I do not exclude at all that they have assembled a nuclear weapon, or more than one nuclear weapon."

Besides calling for international experts to return to North Korea, Mr. ElBaradei threw his support behind the multilateral diplomatic efforts to resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis. These six-nation talks include the United States, North Korea, South Korea, China, Japan, and Russia.

Meanwhile, IAEA inspectors are in South Korea, for follow-up inspections into clandestine and unauthorized nuclear programs. South Korea admitted experimenting with traces of plutonium, in 1982, and with uranium enrichment, in 2000.