Ireland and our EU partners remain seriously concerned about the DRPK's nuclear programme and its failure to comply with its IAEA safeguards agreement. We deeply regret the DPRK's expulsion of IAEA inspectors in December 2002 and its announcement in January 2003 to withdraw from the Non-Proliferation Treaty, NPT. The expulsion of the IAEA inspectors has meant that it is difficult to provide any accurate assessment of the DPRK's nuclear capabilities.
Recent reports that the DPRK is ready to freeze its nuclear programme are encouraging signs. However, Ireland, with our EU partners, continues to urge the DPRK to dismantle immediately any nuclear weapons programme in a visible and verifiable manner, to allow the return of the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, inspectors to assess the DPRK's nuclear capabilities, and to come into full and unconditional compliance with all relevant international obligations, in particular the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the IAEA safeguards agreement.
An unofficial US delegation met the DPRK Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan and visited the nuclear facility in Yongbyon last month. One member of the delegation testified to the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee to the effect that North Korea has the equipment and expertise with which to extract plutonium for use in nuclear weapons but he was not shown conclusive evidence of a nuclear weapons programme in operation in the DPRK. A European Parliament delegation, which is likely to be led by Jacques Santer, also plans to visit the DPRK from 21-24 February 2004.
Ireland, together with our EU partners, is committed to the pursuit of a peaceful and multilateral solution to the current Korean Peninsula nuclear crisis, and supports those working towards that end. We therefore fully support the six party talks process between the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, DPRK, the USA, the Republic of Korea, China, Japan and the Russian Federation aimed at securing a peaceful and comprehensive resolution of the current nuclear crisis. I welcome the news that a second round of talks will take place in Beijing on 25 February.
The visit to the DPRK by a European Union regional directors Troika delegation last December demonstrates the commitment of the Union to actively contribute to a peaceful solution to the current tense situation. The purpose of the Troika's visit was to convey clearly to the DPRK the EU's support for the six party talks process. The delegation also conveyed the need for the DPRK to respect its international non-proliferation obligations, emphasising that EU-DPRK relations and EU assistance would develop further once the current crisis has been resolved.