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Nuclear chief: North Korea has 'stark choice'

Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency
Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency

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South Korean officials are trying to resolve the dispute over North Korea's violation of its nuclear nonproliferation obligations. CNN's Rebecca MacKinnon reports. (January 7)
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The International Atomic Energy Agency gives North Korea one last chance. CNN's Andrea Koppel reports.
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VIENNA, Austria (CNN) -- North Korea, in a blunt editorial published by its official news agency Tuesday, said that any economic sanctions imposed against it would amount to an act of war.

The message came one day after the International Atomic Energy Agency passed a resolution condemning North Korea for restarting its nuclear weapons program and said Pyongyang had "one more chance" to let weapons inspectors back into the country.

IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei, speaking from the agency's headquarters in Vienna, discussed the situation Tuesday with CNN Anchor Paula Zahn.

ZAHN: What difference do you think it will make to give North Korea one more chance?

ELBARADEI: I think it could make a difference. They got a unanimous message from the international community that if you need to resolve your economic needs, if you need the international community to look into your security concerns, you better come into compliance with your nonproliferation obligations, you better give up your weapons program -- it's only through compliance and not defiance that we will listen to you.

I think that is a powerful message. I hope North Korea would mull over it and come around and start to behave as a law-abiding member of the international community.

ZAHN: You say you'd like them to turn around and start behaving as a law-abiding member of the world community. Do you expect North Korea to back down and allow inspectors back in?

ELBARADEI: I hope so. They have a stark choice -- either to continue the policy of defiance and then continue to be further isolated and possibly subject to coercive measures or come around and then open doors for the international community to deal with their sorely needed economic assistance, to deal with some of their security concerns.

So they have a lot of light at the end of the tunnel if they behave. If not, then they will have to face serious consequences, not unlike Iraq.

ZAHN: There is a shocking opinion piece in The New York Times [on Tuesday] morning that says, "In five years, North Korea could have 100 nuclear weapons and be churning out more like a fast-food chef with nothing else to keep its economy going. North Korea will peddle them to the highest bidder."

One hundred weapons? Is that how bad this has gotten?

ELBARADEI: I would not go into numbers, but they have the capacity. They have a processing plant which can produce two or three weapons [worth of] material per year probably. And they might also have an enrichment program.

So the situation is a serious situation. Even five or 10 weapons is serious enough. So we need to deal with the situation, and we need to deal with the situation energetically.

ZAHN: The New York Times also suggests that of all the actors involved in this drama, the [International] Atomic Energy Agency has been the most bruised. What is the relationship between your agency and North Korea?

ELBARADEI: Right now very little -- almost nothing. We were asked to leave. All our cameras and seals and other safeguard measures have been immobilized. So we have very little contact with the North Koreans right now. And that's why I've reported to our member states that we're really clueless as to what's going on in North Korea. And I hope that situation will change very soon. If not, then we will have to go, in a matter of weeks, to the [U.N.] Security Council.

ZAHN: You suggested that samples retrieved by weapons inspectors in Iraq so far have provided no "smoking gun." Does that mean you believe up until this point the Iraqis have been in compliance? Or are they just not showing your inspectors things that aren't on the declaration?

ELBARADEI: I believe that we haven't seen anything to show that Iraq has revived its nuclear weapons program. But whether I'm saying that they do not have a weapons program -- no. I'm saying that so far, we haven't seen a smoking gun. But we still have a lot of work to do before we can come to a conclusion that Iraq is clean. That would still require at least a few months from now.

ZAHN: So the inspectors then will not have their job done by January 27, the date you need to have a report in to the U.N.?

ELBARADEI: By the 27th of January, we will have a status report but not a complete report or a final report. We still have quite a few months [of work to do] from now.

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