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UN Inspectors Look at North Korean Reactor

  • Kurt Achin

More than five years after North Korea expelled nuclear inspectors a team from the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency is visiting the North's main nuclear facility. The visit is a prelude to closing the facility. As VOA's Kurt Achin reports from Seoul, the nuclear diplomacy that led to the shutdown is also about to yield tangible benefits for the North.

North and South Korean officials are scheduled to meet Friday and Saturday in Kaesong. Kang Jeong-seok, of South Korea's Unification Ministry, says they will discuss the specifics of compensating the North for its recent cooperation in efforts to end its nuclear weapons.

Kang says delegates will discuss logistics involved in transferring 50,000 tons of fuel oil to North Korea, in keeping with the February 13th agreement.

North Korea promised in February to shut down its main nuclear reactor in Yongbyon in exchange for that aid. But Pyongyang refused to meet an April deadline for the shutdown, citing a banking dispute that was only finally resolved this Monday.

Inspectors from the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency arrived in North Korea Tuesday to discuss the shutdown, and traveled to Yongbyon Thursday for their first look at the reactor in five years.

North Korea ejected IAEA inspectors from the country in 2002, months after U.S. officials say Pyongyang admitted to violating previous agreements by pursuing a secret uranium-based nuclear weapons program.

The United States, Russia, Japan, China, and South Korea have engaged in off-and-on diplomacy with the North ever since, aimed at negotiating a full end to Pyongyang's nuclear programs.

The nuclear inspectors are expected to propose a plan for the shutdown to be carried out within weeks, on their return to IAEA headquarters in Vienna.

Once the Yongbyon shutdown is complete, more six-nation talks are expected in Beijing next month. Negotiators hope to tackle the more ambitious next phases of the February agreement, including obtaining a full declaration of North Korea's nuclear programs.

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