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UN Nuclear Chief Expects No Problems Closing North Korean Reactor; Talks Resume Next Week

The head of the United Nations nuclear agency says the shutdown of North Korea's main reactor, which will be monitored by inspectors traveling to the country Saturday, should go "smoothly." As Joseph Popiolkowski reports from Hong Kong, the declaration comes as China announces a new round of talks on ending Pyongyang's nuclear programs will begin next week.

Mohamed ElBaradei, chief of the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog agency, said inspectors are ready to enter North Korea and monitor the shutdown of its Yongbyon reactor - the crucial first step in ending North Korea's nuclear weapons programs.

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, is visiting Seoul and on Thursday said he expects North Korea to comply with the promise it made in February to shutter the reactor.

"I expect that operation to move smoothly because we already have an agreement on how to go about it," he said.

But, he adds, further progress, including the abandonment of North Korea's nuclear program and full disclosure of its nuclear inventory hinges on the six-party talks, attended by North and South Korea, China, Russia, the United States, and Japan.

"Then we will have to wait for the negotiation at the six-party talk level to see how we can move to the second step, which is the eventual abandonment of the nuclear power program in DPRK and also an inventory of the nuclear materials," he said.

DPRK refers to North Korea's formal name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

ElBaradei warned that the process of ending all of North Korea's nuclear programs could take considerable time. He noted the effort has gone more than 15 years.

North Korea in fact missed an April deadline to begin shutting down Yongbyon. Pyongyang said it would not proceed until money it had in a Macau bank was transferred to it. A series of technical problems delayed the transfer until last month. Once it was done, Pyongyang invited the IAEA into the country.

China's Foreign Ministry announced Thursday the talks would resume in Beijing on July 18.

The top U.S. envoy to the talks, Christopher Hill, is expected to visit Tokyo, Seoul and Beijing starting Friday to consult with other diplomats before the meeting starts.

Also on Thursday, South Korea sent the first portion of a promised one million tons of fuel oil to the energy-starved North. The fuel is part of a package of rewards for the communist-controlled North given in return for ending its nuclear program.