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UN Inspectors In North Korea On Crunch Mission But Many Doubt Outcome

The head of the UN inspection team to oversee the planned shutdown of North Korea's atomic reactor, Olli Heinonen. Photo courtesy AFP.
by Lim Chang-Won
Seoul (AFP) June 26, 2007
UN inspectors arrived in North Korea on Tuesday for the first time in nearly five years, signalling a dramatic upturn in the pace of international efforts to halt the communist state's nuclear programmes. Before leaving Beijing for Pyongyang, the head of the four-person team from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Olli Heinonen, expressed optimism that the North would finally begin to disarm.

But he said he was not sure whether the IAEA team would be allowed to visit the Yongbyon reactor, the linchpin of the North's nuclear weapons drive which is to be sealed under a six-nation disarmament deal reached in February.

The arrival of the UN inspectors, confirmed by China's official Xinhua news agency, came as South Korea announced it would resume rice aid, which was suspended last July when the North conducted missile tests.

"I think the DPRK (North Korea) will now do what they have been asked to do," Heinonen told reporters at Beijing airport.

"We are now on our way to North Korea where we hope to get the arrangement on behalf of the IAEA and hope to verify the shutting down and sealing of the Yongbyon facility."

The visit by Heinonen and his team is the UN nuclear watchdog's first mission to the North since inspectors were kicked out in late 2002. IAEA director general Mohamed ElBaradei visited Pyongyang in March this year.

Heinonen said he and his team would probably return to Beijing early Saturday.

Asked if he was hopeful, he said: "Well, we are always a little optimistic. Let's see when we get there and the results that we come back with."

South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported that plans would be made during the trip for a visit to the Yongbyon facility, which could come "as early as next week".

The IAEA mission is in line with the February deal, under which the North pledged to shut down the five-megawatt reactor at Yongbyon under UN supervision in return for badly-needed energy aid and diplomatic concessions.

The agreement was drawn up after the impoverished nation stunned the world last October by carrying out its first ever nuclear weapons test.

A financial dispute over the return of 20 to 25 million dollars in frozen assets held up implementation of the deal for months, but Pyongyang announced Monday that it had finally received the cash.

Washington, which had placed the assets under embargo, had agreed in March to return the money, but could not move it through the international banking system until Russia offered its assistance.

South Korea -- a party to the deal along with China, Japan, North Korea, Russia and the United States -- is to reward Pyongyang for its efforts by resuming rice aid.

Unification Minister Lee Jae-Joung said Seoul would start shipping 400,000 tons of rice, worth about 152 million dollars, this week.

"We believe the condition for denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula is taking shape under the February 13 agreement," he said.

In Beijing, a government spokesman told reporters that China appreciated "the positive gestures" made by those involved in the negotiations.

Members of a European Union delegation that has just returned from North Korea reported on Tuesday that they had received clear assurances that the North would fulfil its side of the disarmament agreement.

The IAEA mission follows a visit last week by chief US nuclear envoy Christopher Hill, who became the most senior US official to travel there in nearly five years.

Now back in Washington, Hill said the regime in Pyongyang had agreed to address questions over a controversial highly enriched uranium programme that had triggered the nuclear standoff with Washington.

"We had a very good discussion about it, I am not going into the specifics of it except to say that they acknowledged that this issue must be resolved to mutual satisfaction," he said.

Hill stressed that the United States would not accept a final nuclear deal with Pyongyang unless the uranium enrichment issue was resolved.

Enriched uranium is used as fuel for nuclear reactors, but highly enriched uranium can be used to make nuclear bombs.

earlier related report
Former NSA Chief Doubts North Korea Will Give Up Nukes
Tokyo (AFP) June 26 - Former US National Security Agency director Bobby Ray Inman voiced doubt Tuesday that North Korea would give up its nuclear arms, as UN inspectors arrived in Pyongyang after a near five-year absence. "My scepticism comes from the fact I don't think any country that has actually got nuclear weapons has given them up," he told reporters during a visit to Japan.

Instead, the international community may only be able to persuade North Korea not to build more nuclear weapons, the 76-year-old retired admiral said.

The biggest concern, Inman added, was not that North Korea would use its nuclear weapons against neighbouring countries, but whether it would supply them to others.

"They might sell it or provide it to somebody who would be much more willing to use it," he said.

Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) arrived in North Korea Tuesday for the first time since they were kicked out in late 2002.

The IAEA team is expected to work on arranging the shutdown of the North's Yongbyon reactor, under an aid-for-disarmament deal reached in February.

The impoverished nation stunned the world last October with its first ever nuclear weapons test.

Inman, also a former deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), warned that North Korea's nuclear drive could trigger a regional arms race.

"If North Korea is a nuclear power there will be growing internal pressures in both South Korea and Japan to go nuclear. It simply will occur," he said.

Inman said there was a lack of in-depth intelligence about countries such as North Korea and Iraq -- both included in US President George W. Bush's "axis of evil".

"The greatest shortage in US intelligence is overt human observers -- not spies, just overt human observers with a language ability, understanding of the cultures, countries," he said.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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North Korea Agrees To Come Clean On Nukes As The Money Hits Bank Account
Washington (AFP) June 25, 2007
Nuclear-armed North Korea has agreed to come clean with its controversial highly enriched uranium program that had triggered the nearly five-year atomic standoff with Washington, US envoy Christopher Hill said Monday after a surprise visit to Pyongyang. "We had a very good discussion about it, I am not going into the specifics of it except to say that they acknowleged that this issue must be resolved to mutual satisfaction," Hill told reporters in Washington.

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