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The New York Times - November 13, 2008 Seoul - In its first major act of defiance since Senator Barack Obama’s election, North Korea said Wednesday that it would bar international nuclear inspectors from taking soil and nuclear waste samples, which are considered crucial to determining the extent of its weapons program. The Foreign Ministry said that American experts would be allowed to visit the main nuclear complex in Yongbyon, north of the capital, Pyongyang, to review documents and interview engineers, according to the North’s state-run Korea Central News Agency. But no samples can be taken, it said. The North also said any inspections by American and United Nations experts must be confined to Yongbyon, where a plutonium-based nuclear plant is being dismantled. That limitation complicates Washington’s attempts to determine whether the North has been pursuing a separate uranium-enrichment program and exporting nuclear technology to countries like Syria. North Korea detonated a plutonium-based device in 2006, adding urgency to arduous six-nation talks to halt the North’s nuclear program. As part of the eventual deal, the North made a declaration in June of its nuclear activities. President Bush then said he was prepared to remove North Korea from a list of state sponsors of terrorism, and the North demolished the cooling tower at its Yongbyon nuclear plant. But it was months before the North was removed from the list, while the United States wrangled with its negotiators over how to verify the North’s nuclear declaration and criticism of the Bush administration — for extracting too few concessions — mounted. Finally, in October, the State Department announced that North Korea had agreed to access “based on mutual consent” to undeclared nuclear sites and “sampling and forensic activities.” North Korea’s statement on Wednesday contradicted that, and further, warned that if the United States diverged from the joint document “even by one word, it could lead inevitably to war.” A State Department spokesman, Robert Wood, said that he could not confirm North Korea’s refusal to allow experts to take samples and remove them from the country for analysis, but he suggested that such a step would violate the agreement to proceed with reciprocal actions. The department said the United States was providing the North with 50,000 metric tons of heavy fuel oil, scheduled to arrive aboard two ships in late November and early December. “It was basically agreed that experts could take samples and remove them from the country for testing,” Mr. Wood said. “So as far as I’m concerned, the United States is doing its part with regard to action for action.” On Wednesday, North Korea also said it would close a border crossing with South Korea beginning Dec. 1, effectively halting work at an industrial complex that is the last major symbol of inter-Korean reconciliation. That announcement followed repeated warnings from the North that after a decade of reconciliation efforts, relations between the Koreas were deteriorating to a point approaching confrontation. Halting border traffic will idle tourist buses taking South Koreans to Kaesong, an ancient Korean city just north of the border. Kaesong is also the site of a joint industrial zone where South Korean factories employ North Korean laborers. North Korea opened Kaesong to South Korean tourists and factories under the previous government in Seoul. It receives badly needed cash from tourist fees and factory wages totaling around $3 million a month. By shutting Kaesong, the North is apparently trying to press Lee Myung-bak, the conservative South Korean president, whose predecessor, Roh Moo-hyun, had pursued a policy of rapprochement. Since Mr. Lee took office in February promising a harder line on North Korea, relations have rapidly chilled. Kaesong has been cited as a prime example of South Korean efforts to transform the totalitarian North by implanting capitalism. The Kaesong complex produced $366 million worth of goods in the first half of this year, and the flow of goods accounted for 42 percent of trade between the Koreas. Another tourism project in the North’s Diamond Mountain on the eastern frontier was suspended this year as the two Koreas bickered over the shooting death of a South Korean tourist there by the North’s military in July. South Korea called the North’s latest threat “regrettable,” and officials said the North needed time to adjust itself to the Lee government and the election of Mr. Obama. In recent months, North Korea bitterly protested the propaganda leaflets conservative South Korean activists send to the North to criticize its leader, Kim Jong-il. The leaflets, scattered from balloons, have rattled the North at a time when Mr. Kim is said to have suffered a stroke. Mr. Obama’s election also raised hopes among some experts here that the United States would be more eager to strike a deal with the North.

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