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UN Inspectors To Visit North Korea Atomic Reactor

Google Earth image of the Yongbyon reactor.
by Park Chan-Kyong
Seoul (AFP) Jun 27, 2007
UN inspectors are to visit the reactor at the centre of North Korea's nuclear programme in their first on-site inspection in nearly five years, the head of a team in the communist state said Wednesday. The four-strong UN team had flown Tuesday into North Korea saying they were unsure if they would be allowed to visit the Yongbyon reactor, which produces the raw material for bomb-making plutonium.

That appears to have been resolved, the Japanese news agency Kyodo quoted Olli Heinonen, who is leading the watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) delegation, as saying.

"Tomorrow, we're going to Yongbyon," he told the agency in the North Korean capital Pyongyang.

He said the team would return Friday to the capital.

When asked about the content of his discussions with North Korean officials thus far, Heinonen told Kyodo: "I think we had a good meeting. It's in the middle of the talks. It's not appropriate to comment."

The five-megawatt Yongbyon reactor, located about 95 kilometres (60 miles) north of Pyongyang, was ostensibly built to generate electricity but is reportedly not connected to any power lines.

Instead, experts say, it has produced enough plutonium for possibly up to a dozen nuclear weapons over its 20-year history.

The last time UN inspectors were in North Korea was in 2002, but they were kicked out in December that year at the start of a crisis that led to the regime's first ever nuclear weapons test last year.

Under a February accord, the North has now promised to shut down and seal the Yongbyon facility under UN supervision in return for badly-needed energy aid and diplomatic concessions.

South Korean Foreign Minister Song Min-Soon voiced his optimism that North Korea would honour its promise, speaking as he left for Washington to discuss ways to speed up disarmament.

"That's a technical issue," he said of the IAEA's discussions in the North on shutting down the facility.

"The IAEA consultation team has entered. After the consultation is over, I think it will be shut down as early as possible," Song told reporters.

"That's not an issue that would take a political decision."

Song said he would meet Thursday with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on "how to structure the measures that will follow the initial actions for the denuclearisation, how to schedule them and how we should conduct consultations with countries concerned."

Under the terms of the February accord, the North must eventually abandon the Yongbyon reactor. It also agreed to declare all of its nuclear programmes, including an enriched uranium-based scheme which it has denied operating.

As well as diplomatic benefits, such as talks on restoring diplomatic ties with Washington, the regime will also receive emergency energy aid equivalent to one million tons of heavy fuel oil if all goes well.

Meanwhile the head of a European Union delegation that visited North Korea this week said he believed Pyongyang was committed to disarmament.

"We had a real impression that they are willing immediately (to carry out) the shutdown," Hubert Pirker, who led a European parliament team on a four-day trip to Pyongyang that ended Tuesday, told journalists here.

US nuclear envoy Christopher Hill, who last week became the highest-ranking US official to visit North Korea since 2002, has predicted it will shut down Yongbyon within three weeks.

He said he hoped the facility could be "disabled" by the end of the year.

Although the accord was agreed in February, its implementation was held up because of a dispute over North Korean funds frozen at a Macau bank.

They were released and finally returned at the weekend to Pyongyang.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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US Deeply Troubled By North Korean Missile Launches
Seoul (AFP) June 28, 2007
North Korea has test-fired ballistic missiles, the United States confirmed Wednesday, as UN inspectors prepared to visit a reactor at the centre of the reclusive regime's nuclear programme. The United States said it was "deeply troubled" by the provocative tests into the Sea of Japan which come at a sensitive time in international negotiations over North Korea's nuclear disarmament.

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