The UN nuclear watchdog and North Korea have reached an agreement on how the agency will monitor and verify shutdown of the country's main nuclear reactor, a top official said on Friday.
A team from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) returned on Friday to North Korea's capital from a two-day trip to the Yongbyon nuclear complex, broadcaster APTN reported. It was the first IAEA visit to the facility since UN monitors were expelled from the country in 2002.
"We have concluded this understanding, what our monitoring and verification activities are in principle," IAEA Deputy Director Olli Heinonen said in footage shot by APTN. He did not provide specifics of the agreement.
Heinonen said his team, which was scheduled to leave Pyongyang for Beijing on Saturday, was preparing to report to the IAEA board of governors within one week, but noted that the timing of the shutdown was up to the six countries involved in the North Korea nuclear talks.
"This is for the six parties to decide," he said in the APTN footage. "You have to ask them the time scale. When they do (decide), we will be ready."
An IAEA official in Vienna, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment to media, said that a board meeting would likely take place on July 9, with the 35 member nations expected to approve sending the first inspection team to North Korea as quickly as possible.
Pyongyang pledged to close and seal Yongbyon in exchange for economic aid and political concessions in an agreement with the US, China, Japan, Russia and South Korea. The purpose of the IAEA trip was to discuss how the agency's inspectors would monitor and verify a shutdown.
UN monitors expressed strong satisfaction with its rare visit to North Korea's reactor, praising the country for its cooperation in an indication Pyongyang is serious about meeting its promise to close the facility.
"We visited all the places which we are planning to visit and cooperation was excellent," Heinonen said in footage shot by APTN, adding that the facilities remain operational.
The 5-megawatt reactor, believed capable of churning out enough plutonium for one atomic bomb a year, is at the center of international efforts to halt North Korea's nuclear program. North Korea mounted its first atomic test explosion last October.
Other facilities UN officials saw at Yongbyon included an unfinished 50-megawatt reactor, the fuel fabrication plant and reprocessing plant, Heinonen said.
He said he thought five facilities at the complex would likely be closed.
"North Korea is offering positive signs that it is willing to cooperate once the actual monitoring begins," said Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korean expert at Seoul's Dongguk University.
(China Daily June 30, 2007)