The International Atomic Energy Agency is becoming increasingly worried by what it calls "the rapidly deteriorating situation" in North Korea.

The Director General of the IAEA, Mohamed ElBaradei, has expressed grave concern at the continued disruption of the agency's safeguarding of nuclear facilities in North Korea. Seals have been cut and cameras have been disabled at three facilities of the Yongbyong nuclear reactor. Mr ElBaradei said unless the IAEA can reinstate its safeguards "without delay," it will be unable to provide assurances that North Korea is not diverting nuclear material to produce weapons. He added that there are "grave concerns" that North Korea is not fulfilling its nuclear non-proliferation obligations. Mr ElBaradei is discussing what the IAEA calls this "disturbing development" with the chairman and member states of the agency's board of governors. The IAEA chief spokesman Mark Gwozdecky said Iraq and North Korea (DPRK) are currently the agency's top priorities. "In terms of nuclear capabilities, when we left Iraq in 1998 we left them with virtually no nuclear weapons capability; we don't know if they have reconstituted any of that in the meantime, but certainly we know that they don't have any major facilities or reactors. In the DPRK it's different. We know they have a large nuclear complex and they have facilities like this reprocessing plant that can extract plutonium from spent fuel. That's a serious matter," he said.

Mr. Gwozdecky said the IAEA has only low-level contacts with the authorities in North Korea, unlike Iraq where it has contacts at high levels of the government, and inspectors on the ground.

That has led to some concern among analysts that the lack of information from North Korea could make the situation potentially more dangerous than the situation in Iraq.