Lee, Obama to talk amid fears of new North Korea atomic test
Jun 15, 2009, 15:20 GMT
Seoul/Vienna - South Korean President Lee Myung Bak left for the United States Monday for talks on the increasingly critical nuclear dispute with North Korea, as media in Seoul reported that North Korea could have built several underground nuclear test sites.
Meanwhile, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Mohamed ElBaradei said in Vienna he was 'greatly concerned' about North Korea's recent atomic test, which had created an environment of confrontation.
Lee is due to meet US President Barack Obama on Tuesday in Washington to discuss ways to cooperate 'to achieve the complete and verifiable denuclearization of North Korea,' an official from Lee's office in Seoul said.
North Korea's launch of a long-range rocket in April and its second nuclear test on 25 May have significantly raised tensions on the Korean peninsula and in the region.
Lee wants written reassurance from the US that South Korea is protected by its 'nuclear umbrella,' an official from the President's Office told the national news agency Yonhap.
North Korea has possibly built two or three underground test facilities in the Kilchu region, near where the previous two tests - in October 2006 and in May - took place.
There were no indications for a third test, Yonhap reported South Korean intelligence sources as saying.
However, South Korea fears its Communist northern neighbour could conduct a third test in reaction to sanctions passed by the United Nations Security Council on Friday.
So far, Pyongyang has responded by threatening war and announcing it would build more nuclear weapons. A statement from Pyongyang said it was in the 'early phase of an open-ended confrontation with the US.'
Referring to the blast on May 25, ElBaradei said: 'I deeply regret this, particularly at a time when the prospects for progress on nuclear disarmament are far better than they have been at any time in the recent past.'
US President Barack Obama has vowed to push ahead with nuclear disarmament, including through arms reduction talks with Russia and efforts to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty.
North Korea had taken 'a wrong step in the wrong direction,' ElBaradei said at a regular meeting of the IAEA's governing board.
In April, the reclusive state kicked out IAEA inspectors. They were permanently stationed at the Yongbyon nuclear centre to make sure that the installations there remained shuttered, as agreed under a multilateral deal with countries including the US.
While Yonhap reported there were no signs of a further test, the Joongang Ilbo newspaper said South Korean and US intelligence was monitoring underground facilities in the North for possible preparations of another blast.
North Korea has 8,200 underground military facilities, with the tunnels' length totalling 547 kilometres, according to estimates by South Korea's military intelligence.