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Nuclear Inspectors Praise N. Korea's Cooperation on Reactor Visit

There are more indications that at least one key element of a broader effort to end North Korea's nuclear weapons programs may soon be in place. United Nations nuclear inspectors say they were given full access to a North Korean reactor facility that may be shut down within weeks. VOA's Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.

Delegates from the International Atomic Energy Agency say Thursday's visit to North Korea's main nuclear facility was successful.

Senior inspector Olli Heinonen, who is leading the IAEA team, says North Korean authorities have been helpful.

"We visited all the places which we were planning to. The cooperation was excellent," he said.

U.N. nuclear inspectors had not seen the Yongbyon facility first-hand since North Korea ejected them from the country more than four years ago.

Heinonen and his team are now in North Korea to negotiate the shutdown as part of stepped-up six-nation diplomacy aimed at ending Pyongyang's nuclear weapons capabilities. North Korea agreed to the shutdown at the conclusion of February talks with China, Russia, Japan, the United States and South Korea.

The final resolution of a banking dispute on Monday cleared North Korea's objection to implementing the shutdown, as it had promised to do by mid-April.

The IAEA delegation has one more day of meetings in North Korea before returning Saturday to the agency's headquarters in Vienna. The team is expected to deliver a report, including an outline of procedures for shutting down the Yongbyon reactor, as early as next month.

In South Korea, authorities are preparing to do their part under the February agreement. Seoul is working with major energy companies to ship 50,000 tons of fuel oil to the North. Ships carrying the first portion of an eventual 400,000 ton rice transfer to the impoverished North are scheduled to depart on Saturday.