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Pyongyang readmits UN nuclear inspectors

Latest update : 2008-10-16

North Korea allowed UN inspectors to regain access to its nuclear sites and announced it would resume disabling the Yongbyon reactor on Tuesday, the UN nuclear watchdog said.

VIENNA - North Korea on Monday restored U.N. monitors' access to its atom bomb complex and will resume disabling its nuclear reactor on Tuesday, the U.N. nuclear watchdog said, after a deal with Washington to save the process.


The accord appears to have rescued a denuclearization process jeopardised by disputes over verification.


An IAEA statement confirmed diplomatic reports earlier in the day that North Korea had re-admitted IAEA monitors to Yongbyon. Pyongyang had pledged on Sunday to resume steps to eliminate its atomic bomb programme in a deal with Washington. Melissa Fleming, spokeswoman for the U.N. nuclear watchdog, said North Korea had reinstated IAEA monitoring of the 5 megawatt reactor, the nuclear fuel fabrication facility and a reprocessing plant that had been producing weapons-grade plutonium.


"Agency inspectors were also informed today that, as of tomorrow, 14 October, core discharge activities at the reactor would be resumed, monitored by Agency inspectors," she said.


"(Our) inspectors will also now be permitted to re-apply containment and surveillance measures at the reprocessing facility," Fleming said in a statement.


North Korea had barred the inspectors from Yongbyon last Thursday in anger over Washington's refusal to remove it from a sponsors-of-terrorism blacklist in a dispute over the extent of verification measures required for denuclearization.


The U.S. State Department announced on Saturday that it had delisted the Stalinist state after Pyongyang agreed to a series of verification steps.


Fleming said the IAEA had not yet been briefed on details of that pact and hoped this would happen once all six nations party to the process -- the others are South Korea, Japan, China and Russia -- had met to finalize the arrangement.


A Vienna diplomat familiar with the matter said the three inspectors' first job would be to reassess the status of Yongbyon's facilities, since Pyongyang had taken steps in recent weeks to reactivate them.




Under a February 2007 disarmament deal with five powers, North Korea was to have been removed from the U.S. blacklist once it provided a full account of its nuclear programmes and accepted a system to check its claims.


The isolated, impoverished North wants to be delisted so it can draw from international finance, see a myriad of trade sanctions dropped and use global settlement banks to send money abroad instead of relying on cash-stuffed suitcases.


But the deal threatened to unravel after Pyongyang signalled it had no intention of letting foreign monitors scour the nation at will and poke into any military or other high-security site.


Washington's decision to delist North Korea was made after the North agreed to access for experts to all declared nuclear facilities and, based on "mutual consent", undeclared sites.


Experts from the six nations handling the North Korean dossier -- the two Koreas, Russia, China, Japan and the United States -- could participate in verification, and the IAEA would have an "important consultative and support role".


Measures would encompass the plutonium bomb programme as well as "any uranium enrichment and proliferation activities".


But the deal has yet to be formalized, and implementation almost certainly remains a hazardous challenge.


First, North Korea has reported producing less plutonium than the United States has estimated, which is about 50 kg (110 lb), or, conservatively, enough for six to eight nuclear bombs.


Second, Washington wants to be able to check on suspicions that the North has a covert programme to enrich uranium for weapons -- giving it a second pathway to atom bomb capability -- and that it exported the proliferation-prone technology.


Most of the dismantling steps, begun last November, had been completed and were supposed to take at least a year to reverse.


As a part of the 2007 disarmament deal, North Korea began receiving 1 million tonnes of heavy fuel oil, or aid of equal value such as steel, when it froze operations at Yongbyon last year and allowed in nuclear inspectors.


South Korea is likely to send 3,000 tonnes of held-up steel aid to the North once it was clear dismantling work had resumed, Yonhap news agency quoted sources as saying on Monday.

Date created : 2008-10-13