WASHINGTON – As North Korea spurned a U.N. condemnation, the Obama White House called on the reclusive communist nation Tuesday to "cease its provocative threats" and respect the international community's will.
Presidential press secretary Robert Gibbs said Pyongyang's vow to restart its nuclear reactor and boycott international disarmament talks is "a serious step in the wrong direction." He said the international community won't accept North Korea "unless it verifiably abandons its pursuit of nuclear weapons."
"We call on North Korea to cease its provocative threats, to respect the will of the international community, and to honor its international commitments and obligations," President Barack Obama's chief spokesman said at his daily briefing with reporters.
His remarks came just as the International Atomic Energy Agency said North Korea is expelling its inspectors and has told the U.N. nuclear watchdog that it is reactivating all of its nuclear facilities.
North Korea is retaliating for the U.N. Security Council's condemnation Monday of the country's recent rocket launch. North Korea has tested a nuclear bomb, but had subsequently agreed to dismantle its nuclear program in return for massive fuel oil shipments arranged in talks with China, Russia, South Korea, the U.S. and Japan.
Under a 2007 six-party deal, North Korea agreed to disable its main nuclear complex in Yongbyon north of Pyongyang — a key step toward dismantlement — in return for 1 million tons of fuel oil and other concessions. Disablement began later that year.
In June 2008, North Korea famously blew up the cooling tower at Yongbyon in a dramatic show of its commitment to denuclearization.
But disablement came to halt a month later as Pyongyang wrangled with Washington over how to verify its 18,000-page account of past atomic activities. The latest round of talks, in December, failed to push the process forward.
On Tuesday, North Korea said it would restart nuclear facilities, an apparent reference to its plutonium-producing reactor at Yongbyon. North Korea already is believed to have enough plutonium to produce at least half a dozen atomic bombs.
Gibbs said the six-party talks offer the country the best path to earning international acceptance, and he said the United States stands ready to work with North Korea and its neighbors through that process.
He said the administration is "quite pleased" with the U.N. Security Council's unanimous condemnation of the rocket launch. The Security Council demanded an end to missile tests and said it will expand sanctions against North Korea.
"We're pleased with what we got," Gibbs said.
He also said the White House expects China to continue to play "a very constructive role" in any dialogue between North Korea and its neighbors.