Seoul: UN agency to boost efforts to monitor N. Korean nukes

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Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, Rafael Grossi, left, is greeted by South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin at the Foreign Ministry in Seoul, Thursday, Dec. 15, 2022. (Jung Yeon-je/Pool Photo via AP)

SEOUL – The head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency said Thursday his organization will push to bolster its capacity to verify North Korean nuclear activities and raise international awareness of the urgency of its weapons program.

Rafael Grossi, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, made the comments during his meeting in Seoul with South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin, according to the South Korean Foreign Ministry. Grossi flew to South Korea on Wednesday for his first trip to the Asian country since he took office in 2019.

During their meeting Thursday, Park appraised what he called IAEA’s persistent efforts to convince North Korea to return to an international nonproliferation regime. Park said South Korea will coordinate with IAEA more closely to try to achieve North Korea’s denuclearization, Park's ministry said in a statement.

Grossi sad IAEA will keep closely monitoring North Korean nuclear activities. He said IAEA will push to promote member states’ awareness of the seriousness of the North’s nuclear program while trying to strengthen capabilities to verify its nuclear activities, the statement said.

In remarks open to the media at the start of the meeting, Grossi said that “concerns around and about the nuclear program” of North Korea are among “so many important issues” that IAEA and South Korea are working on together.

During a separate meeting with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol earlier Thursday, Grossi said IAEA will make efforts to help curb North Korea’s nuclear program while the South Korean leader called for IAEA’s support for a push for North Korea's denuclearization, according to Yoon's office.

Worries about North Korea’s nuclear arsenal have grown in recent months as the country has tested nuclear-capable missiles in a record pace and threatened the preemptive use of nuclear weapons. South Korean and U.S. officials have said for months that North Korea has been ready to perform its first nuclear test in five years.

In late October, Grossi said IAEA also saw preparations for a North Korea nuclear test. He said the test "would be yet another confirmation of a program which is moving full-steam ahead in a way that is incredibly concerning.”

The IAEA has not had access to North Korean nuclear facilities since the country kicked out IAEA inspectors in 2009. The agency has said it uses satellite imagery and open source information to monitor developments in North Korea’s nuclear program.