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US Welcomes North Korean Invitation to UN Nuclear Chief


The United States is welcoming North Korea's invitation for a visit by the head of the U.N. nuclear agency as a positive indication that it intends to move forward on last week's deal to end its nuclear program. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, speaking in the Canadian capital Ottawa Friday, called the early North Korean move a good sign. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The February 13 agreement gave North Korea 60 days to shut down its nuclear reactor complex at Yongbyong in exchange for a first installment of energy assistance.

And Bush administration officials are taking the North Korean invitation for a visit by International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei as an encouraging sign of good faith by Pyongyang in implementing the multi-stage disarmament deal.

The ElBaradei visit, expected to occur in the next few weeks, would lay groundwork for the return of international nuclear inspectors to North Korea for the first time in more than four years.

At a news conference in Ottawa capping a three-way U.S.-Canada-Mexico political dialogue, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she had yet to discuss the invitation with ElBaradei but said the fact that the North Korean overture came so soon is indeed a good sign.

"We are really very pleased that the I.A.E.A. is now receiving the initial steps to be able to go back into North Korea, and be able to verify compliance with the agreement that is to take place over the next 60 days that would shut down the Yongbyong reactor, and would seal it, so that we can move on to the next phase, which is the disablement of the nuclear facilities of North Korea, on the way to the full denuclearization of the Korean peninsula," he said.

Over the span of the deal, North Korea is to receive one million tons of fuel oil or equivalent outside aid, as well as diplomatic and security benefits in exchange for irreversibly ending all aspects of its nuclear program, including the weapons effort that produced a test explosion last October.

After the initial 60-day period, all participants in the six-party nuclear talks, including Russia, Japan and South Korea as well as North Korea, the United States and China are to meet at the ministerial level in Beijing to review compliance.

That would include Secretary Rice's first face-to-face encounter with her North Korean counterpart, but under questioning in Ottawa Rice said it is premature to discuss a trip by the Secretary to Pyongyang.

The new U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte is to consult on the nuclear issue in a visit next week to Japan, China and South Korea.

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