Australia, citing nuclear test, bars North Korea from reopening embassy

CANBERRA Wed Mar 6, 2013 9:33pm EST

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (R) waves during an inspection of the Korean People's Army Unit 323 honoured with the title of O Jung-hup-led 7th Regiment, in this undated recent picture released by the North's official KCNA news agency in Pyongyang February 21, 2013. REUTERS/KCNA

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (R) waves during an inspection of the Korean People's Army Unit 323 honoured with the title of O Jung-hup-led 7th Regiment, in this undated recent picture released by the North's official KCNA news agency in Pyongyang February 21, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/KCNA

CANBERRA (Reuters) - Australia has barred North Korea from reopening an embassy in Canberra because of the reclusive state's recent nuclear test, the government said on Thursday.

Australia, a close U.S. ally, is one of a few Western countries to have diplomatic ties with North Korea, which first opened a Canberra embassy in May 2002. It closed the embassy six years later and then sought this year to reopen it.

But Australia, a rotating U.N. Security Council member, has been strongly critical of the nuclear tests and has helped drive international calls for tougher sanctions against Pyongyang.

"The proposal to reopen a North Korean Embassy in Canberra is not currently progressing," an Australian foreign ministry spokeswoman said.

"It is in abeyance until further notice while we work in the United Nations Security Council on the response to North Korea's recent nuclear activity," she said.

Australia temporarily blocked North Korean officials from visiting Canberra in February to inspect possible locations for the embassy, shortly after North Korea conducted its third nuclear test in defiance of U.N. resolutions.

The U.N. Security Council is set to tighten financial restrictions on North Korea and crack down on Pyongyang's attempts to ship and receive banned cargo in violation of existing sanctions.

The measures are included in a draft sanctions resolution, which the United States delivered to the council on Tuesday. The nine-page text was the product of three weeks of negotiations between the United States and China in response to North Korean's third nuclear test, on February 12.

(Reporting by Rob Taylor; Editing by Ken Wills)

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