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IAEA to play 'constructive role' for communication channels on N.K. denuclearization: agency chief

Interviews 14:50 December 16, 2022

By Chang Dong-woo

SEOUL, Dec. 16 (Joint Press Corps-Yonhap) -- The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will be able to play a constructive role in opening up channels of communication in efforts for the denuclearization of North Korea, the head of the agency said Friday.

"In the resolution of this (nuclear stalemate), I am persuaded that opening channels of communication is indispensable. I am also persuaded that the IAEA can play a constructive role in this regard," IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said in a joint interview with South Korean media in Seoul.

He arrived here Wednesday for meetings with officials on issues ranging from the North's nuclear program to Japan's plan to discharge radioactive water from its crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean in the coming spring. It marks his first trip to South Korea as the leader of the IAEA.

Speaking to President Yoon Suk-yeol during a meeting the previous day, Grossi said his agency would be able "to play even a wider role if needed."

IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi speaks during a joint interview with South Korean reporters at the Seoul foreign ministry on Dec. 16, 2022. (Pool photo) (Yonhap)

IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi speaks during a joint interview with South Korean reporters at the Seoul foreign ministry on Dec. 16, 2022. (Pool photo) (Yonhap)

The secretive North is continuing activities at its Yongbyon nuclear facilities, with a move detected as well to restore Tunnel No. 3 at the Punggye-ri nuclear testing site, which indicates that the regime has "everything in order to proceed with another test," he added.

Speculation has grown that North Korea may soon carry out a seventh underground nuclear test in line with its continued provocative acts highlighted by the firing of more than 60 ballistic missiles this year alone.

He said the latest information regarding the North's nuclear activity revealed a "very intensive effort" by Pyongyang for the accumulation of nuclear material, separation of plutonium and uranium enrichment.

"All in all, when you put all these pieces of the jigsaw puzzle together, what you see is a concerted effort to move forward to increase the capabilities," Grossi said. He added that the IAEA was preparing for its workforce to return to North Korea if there is an opportunity.

On the Fukushima water discharge issue, Grossi said his agency takes "very, very seriously" the concerns that have been expressed by neighboring countries.

IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi (3rd from R, in back) speaks with South Korean reporters during an joint interview at the Seoul foreign ministry on Dec. 16, 2022. (Pool photo) (Yonhap)

IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi (3rd from R, in back) speaks with South Korean reporters during an joint interview at the Seoul foreign ministry on Dec. 16, 2022. (Pool photo) (Yonhap)

South Korea has urged Japan to have in-depth discussions with neighboring countries before pushing ahead with the plan and has been working to garner international support for alternatives.

"The process is an ongoing process, so we are not jumping to any conclusions," he said, adding the commitment of the IAEA was to ensure that the process is done in strict compliance with international safety standards.

In terms of the possibility of Russia's use of a nuclear weapon against Ukraine, Grossi said such a case would be "catastrophic," while he does not see it as a likely scenario.

odissy@yna.co.kr
(END)

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