Sanctions until Pyongyang takes 'irreversible' steps to disarm, Clinton says

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday that sanctions against North Korea will continue until Pyongyang takes "verifiable and irreversible" steps toward full nuclear disarmament.


AFP - US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday that sanctions against North Korea will only be relaxed when Pyongyang takes "verifiable and irreversible" steps for full nuclear disarmament.

In a speech that put curbing North Korea's and Iran's nuclear ambitions at the center of a US quest for a nuclear-free world, Clinton also called for a strengthened UN watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The chief US diplomat saved some of her toughest words for North Korea, which bolted six-party nuclear disarmament talks after it tested a long-range rocket in April. Pyongyang then tested a nuclear weapon, its second, in May.

"Thwarting the nuclear ambitions of North Korea and Iran would shore up the non-proliferation regime," the chief US diplomat told foreign policy experts gathered by the United States Institute for Peace at a Washington hotel.

She renewed US support for face-to-face talks with North Korea provided the Stalinist regime of Kim Jong-il resumes the six-party negotiations.

Besides the United States and North Korea, the partners are China, Russia, South Korea and Japan.

"But North Korea’s return to the negotiating table is not enough," she said.

"Current sanctions will not be relaxed until Pyongyang takes verifiable, irreversible steps toward complete denuclearization," Clinton said.

"Its leaders should be under no illusion that the United States will ever have normal, sanctions-free relations with a nuclear-armed North Korea," she added.

Many analysts suspect North Korea seeks to become a nuclear weapons state, mainly as a strategy to ensure the regime survives.

She also repeated that President Barack Obama's diplomatic engagement with Iran over its disputed nuclear program cannot be "open-ended."

Along with the four other UN Security Council permanent members -- Russia, China, France and Britain -- plus Germany, the Obama administration opened talks with Iran October 1 in a bid to halt Tehran's uranium enrichment program.

Iran rejects Western allegations that it aims to build a nuclear bomb, saying the program is for peaceful nuclear energy.

And she called for bolstering the IAEA's authority and increasing its resources.

"The IAEA should make full use of existing verification authorities, including special inspections," Clinton said.

"But it should also be given new authorities, such as the ability to investigate nuclear weapons-related activities even when no nuclear materials are present," she said.

"And if we expect the IAEA to be a bulwark of the non-proliferation regime, we must also give it the resources necessary to do its job," the secretary said.

A new review conference for the Non-Proliferation Treaty is scheduled for next year. Under the treaty, nuclear powers are forbidden from transferring nuclear weapons or helping other states from acquiring them.

She said US negotiations with Russia for a successor to the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) would enhance not only world security but US security. The treaty expires December 5.

The talks, which strictly limits US and Russian arsenals and is seen as a cornerstone of Cold War-era strategic arms control, made little progress under former US president George W. Bush.

The chief US diplomat renewed the administration's commitment to obtain Congressional ratification of a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

Six countries -- the United States, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, China and Egypt -- have signed but not ratified the pact. North Korea, India and Pakistan have not signed it and all three have carried out nuclear tests since 1996.

"A test ban treaty that has entered into force will allow the United States and others to challenge states engaged in suspicious testing activities -- including the option of calling on-site inspections to be sure that no testing occurs anywhere," she said.

Her speech outlined key steps toward achieving Obama's vision -- enunciated in Prague earlier this year -- for a world purged of nuclear weapons.

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