IAEA: Obama right on N. Korea, Iran issues

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – The head of the U.N.’s atomic watchdog expressed confidence Monday that President Barack Obama’s approach to North Korea and Iran will eventually help resolve international disputes over their nuclear programs.

“While I am distressed because, of course, what has happened in North Korea is a setback, I am optimistic about the new environment,” International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei said in Beijing.

ElBaradei spoke after Pyongyang last week vowed to quit six-nation nuclear negotiations and restart its atomic program in anger over the U.N. Security Council’s criticism of its April 5 rocket launch. It also kicked out all international monitors of its nuclear facilities.

His remarks also came a day before North Korea and South Korea were set to hold talks on a troubled inter-Korean industrial complex amid an overall worsening trend in relations.

Tuesday’s meeting was to be their first government-to-government dialogue since conservative South Korean President Lee Myung-bak took office in February last year with a pledge to get tough with Pyongyang and its nuclear ambitions. The nuclear issue, however, was not on the agenda for the meeting and it was unclear what attitude Pyongyang would take.

The U.S. and North Korea have yet to achieve any breakthroughs under Obama and he has publicly criticized the rocket launch, saying it threatened the security of countries “near and far.”

Relations have been further complicated by the North’s apprehension last month of two U.S. journalists. Pyongyang says it will try the two women on charges of entering the country illegally and engaging in “hostile acts.”

Still, ElBaradei mentioned what he saw as Washington’s new openness to dialogue with countries like North Korea and Iran, in contrast to the previous administration of George W. Bush.

“I am extremely pleased that there is a reversal in the policy of the United States from one of confrontation to one of dialogue and mutual respect,” he said of overtures to Iran.

U.S. openness to Teheran could provide an opportunity “to resolve the Iranian issue, not just the nuclear issue but the whole regularization of relations between Iran and the international community,” he said.

North Korea has reacted angrily over the U.N. Security Council’s condemnation of the rocket launch. It says the rebuke is unfair because the rocket fired a satellite it says is allowed under a U.N. space treaty.