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UN Nuclear Chief in Seoul; Team to Arrive in N. Korea Within Days

The head of the United Nations nuclear agency says an inspection team is to be deployed to North Korea by the end of this week. The team's mission will be to monitor the shutdown of the country's main nuclear facility - a significant step toward fulfilling North Korea's February promise to end its nuclear programs. VOA's Heda Bayron reports from our Asia News Center in Hong Kong.

International Atomic Energy Agency chief, Mohamed ElBaradei, said in Seoul Wednesday that his U.N. team will travel to North Korea Saturday to monitor the shutdown of the Yongbyon nuclear reactor.

This will be the first team invited back to North Korea since U.N. inspectors were expelled there in late 2002 after accusations Pyongyang had violated previous international nuclear agreements.

But ElBaradei warns that patience will needed as the process of dismantling North Korea's nuclear programs will be lengthy and difficult.

Pyongyang agreed it would begin the shutdown of Yongbyon as soon as it receives a 50,000 ton shipment of fuel oil from South Korea.

South Korean Foreign Minister Song Min-soon said Wednesday the shipment is due to arrive in the North Saturday.

The fuel shipment is part of a five-nation agreement reached in February with North Korea to dismantle all nuclear programs in exchange for energy aid and diplomatic incentives.

Song says the next round of talks - involving China, Russia, Japan, the United States, South and North Korea - will resume later this month in Beijing. He says the meeting will focus on the next steps in the denuclearization process and when North Korea will receive the rest of the 950,000 ton fuel oil shipment.

The top U.S. envoy to the talks, Christopher Hill, is expected to visit Tokyo, Seoul and Beijing starting Friday to consult with counterparts on the issue before talks resume.

Beijing said that it wants to host the talks in the middle of the month, but no date has been formally announced.