North Korea has announced that it is pulling out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty immediately and will not let U.N. nuclear inspectors back into the country.

North Korea made good Friday on its threat to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, a step widely viewed as a serious escalation of the nuclear crisis on the Korean Peninsula.

The official Korean Central News Agency said that Pyongyang has pulled out of the pact, but insisted it would not develop nuclear weapons, only pursue energy projects.

The NPT is an international treaty that aims to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology and promote peaceful uses of nuclear energy. A total of 188 countries have signed it.

North Korea also rejected a resolution by the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency earlier this week when it ordered Pyongyang to readmit its monitors it kicked out on New Year's Eve.

The government news agency says Pyongyang vehemently rejects the IAEA demand, considering it a grave encroachment upon its sovereignty and dignity. It also accuses the United States of using the U.N. nuclear watchdog as a tool for executing hostile policy toward the North and threatening sanctions.

Analysts suggest the NPT withdrawal is a grave development. Hideya Kurata, a professor of Korean studies at Kyorin University in Tokyo, said he views North Korea's move with concern, because the country withdrew from the NPT immediately, instead of declaring a three-month waiting period, as it has in the past. He adds that he believes that North Korea's nuclear capabilities are now greater than ever before.

The withdrawal comes as two North Korean diplomats begin talks with New Mexico's state governor, Bill Richardson, to discuss the nuclear stand-off. Mr. Richardson was a U.N. ambassador during the Clinton administration, who has previously negotiated with the North Korean government. He hosted the two Thursday evening in an unofficial capacity and is set to meet with them again on Friday.

State Department officials say the North Korean diplomats may tell Governor Richardson whether Pyongyang will accept this week's U.S. offer to hold direct talks on the dispute.

After diplomatic meetings with South Korea and Japan, the Bush Administration shifted its policy of no contact with the North until it halted it nuclear activities. But Washington insists it will offer no concessions to get North Korea to live up to its international commitments.

North Korea stunned the world in December by moving to reactivate the Yongbyon nuclear facility, capable of producing weapons grade plutonium. A flurry of diplomatic activity involving the United States, South Korea, Japan, Russia, China and other nations has taken place to encourage a peaceful resolution to the crisis.

In 1993, North Korea also announced that it was withdrawing from the treaty, but later suspended the decision and entered talks with the United States. The result was their Agreed Framework accord in which the North would receive energy aid in exchange for giving up its nuclear program. Both nations now accuse each other of violating the pact.