The UN atomic watchdog expressed "great concern" Thursday over North Korea and also turned up the heat on Syria and Iran, which are both under investigation for alleged illicit nuclear activity.
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Yukiya Amano told a meeting of the body's board of governors that he was worried by reports that North Korea had built a state-of-the-art uranium enrichment facility.
"It was with great concern that I learned of recent reports about a new uranium enrichment facility, as well as the construction of a new light water reactor, in the DPRK" or Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Amano said in his opening address to the closed-door meeting. Amano also appeared to ramp up pressure on Syria, saying he had written to the government there for the first time to try and bring some movement into the IAEA's stymied two-year-long probe.
And he again complained that Iran was continuing to stonewall a separate investigation there, even as he welcomed the resumption of long-stalled talks between the Islamic Republic and world powers.
"I wrote a letter to the Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Syrian Arab Republic on November 18 to request the government to provide the agency with prompt access to relevant information and locations" connected to an alleged nuclear site, Amano said.
"I also requested Syria's cooperation regarding the agency's verification activities in general."
It was the first time that Amano has contacted the Syrian government directly with regard to the agency's probe and diplomats close to the IAEA saw it as a sign of his growing impatience with Damascus.
"He's trying to move things along," one diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Syria is accused of building an undeclared reactor at a remote desert site called Dair Alzour until it was bombed by Israeli planes in September 2007.
The IAEA has been investigating the allegations since 2008 and has already said that the building bore some of the characteristics of a nuclear facility.
UN inspectors also detected "significant" traces of man-made uranium at that site, as yet unexplained by Damascus.
In addition, the watchdog has also requested access to three other locations allegedly functionally related to Dair Alzour, but so far to no avail.
On Iran, Amano complained that Tehran "has not provided the necessary cooperation to permit the agency to confirm that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities."
Iran was defying UN Security Council resolutions and pressing ahead with its sensitive uranium enrichment activities, Amano said.
It was also refusing to answer questions about possible military dimensions to its atomic work.
The IAEA has been investigating Iran's nuclear programme for eight years now to try and establish whether it is entirely peaceful as Tehran claims or whether it masks a covert drive to build a bomb as western powers believe.
Iran is under four sets of UN sanctions over its refusal to suspend enrichment of uranium, which can be used to make nuclear fuel or, in highly extended form, the fissile core of an atom bomb.
The IAEA's traditional year-end board meeting is being held just three days before much higher-level talks in Geneva where Iran is to sit down with the so-called P5+1 grouping of Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States plus Germany for the first time in over a year.