Working-level IAEA delegation expected to depart for Pyongyang soon
North Korea invited U.N. nuclear inspectors in the first concrete sign
of a breakthrough in a stalemate over its nuclear program, as the
transfer of frozen North Korean funds at the center of the dispute
The North sent a letter to the International Atomic Energy
Agency, inviting inspectors to discuss shutting down its nuclear
reactor, because "it is confirmed that the process of de-freezing the
funds ... at Banco Delta Asia in Macau has reached its final phase,"
the country's official Korean Central News Agency reported Saturday.
It said a "working-level delegation" from the U.N. nuclear
watchdog had been invited to discuss procedures for the IAEA's
verification and monitoring of the Yongbyon reactor's shutdown.
In Vienna, IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said the agency had received a letter from North Korea.
"We can confirm we received the invitation from the Democratic
People's Republic of Korea. We will be deciding next steps tomorrow
(Monday)," the spokeswoman said.
She refused to comment further.
U.S. nuclear envoy Christopher Hill said Sunday that a
working-level delegation from the U.N. nuclear watchdog will leave for
North Korea soon, according to the Yonhap News agency. The report did
not provide further details.
North Korea had refused to act on a pledge in a February
agreement in six-nation nuclear talks to shut down the reactor until it
received access to about $25 million once frozen in the Macau bank,
blacklisted by the United States. The U.S. accused Banco Delta Asia of
helping North Korea's government pass fake $100 bills and launder money
from weapons sales.
Claiming the financial freeze was a sign of Washington's
hostility, North Korea boycotted the six-nation talks for more than a
year, during which it conducted its first-ever atomic bomb test last
The White House welcomed the North Korean announcement.
"This is a good step," said Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the
National Security Council at the White House. He said the participants
in the six-nation nuclear talks should now move to fully implement the
February agreement and the eventual denuclearization of the Korean
South Korea's chief nuclear envoy, Chun Yung-woo, also welcomed the development as "good news."
"As we watch how the discussions between North Korea and the
IAEA proceed, we will start preparations for implementing our own
obligations as outlined by the Feb. 13 agreement," Chun told the
Associated Press by telephone.
Chun was referring to the shipment of 50,000 tons of heavy fuel
oil North Korea is to receive in return for shutting down its reactor
and allowing U.N. inspectors back into the country to verify the
closure and sealing of the facility. North Korea expelled IAEA
inspectors in December 2002.
Other South Korean officials said that the IAEA team will
discuss procedures for closing and sealing off Yongbyon's 5-megawatt
reactor, which could have produced the plutonium used to detonate North
Korea's first nuclear device last year.
"If talks make progress, the North may decide to stop
operations at Yongbyon, and an arrangement can be made for IAEA
inspectors to be posted at the reactor again," said a government
official, who declined to be identified.
He said the meeting between North Korea and the IAEA will
reveal the extent of the North's resolve to implement the Feb. 13
"If the North really wants to, it could carry out its part of
the February pact within a week's time," the expert said. He said any
international aid, including the shipment of 50,000 tons of heavy oil,
will be contingent upon North Korea taking tangible steps to end its
In addition, Seoul said that while the North Korea-IAEA talks
are important, it is still too early for South Korea to send rice to
Officials at the Unification Ministry said that South Korea has
not even taken steps to find a seller for the rice to be sent to North
Korea. They said that once a decision is made to send the rice, the
shipload can be delivered in about two weeks.
Signs of a breakthrough in the standoff emerged this week as
the North Korean funds at the Macau bank finally began to be
To win the North's promise to start dismantling its nuclear
program, the United States agreed to allow the North Korean funds at
the bank to be freed. But the transfer has taken months as North Korea
insisted that it be sent electronically to another bank, apparently to
prove the money is now clean.
The participants in the six-nation talks are the United States, the two Koreas, Russia, China and Japan.
From news reports