Returning from a two-day trip to North Korea, Director-General
of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Mohammed ElBaradei
appeared positive, declaring his satisfaction at the cooperation
received but warned that the agreement was still precarious and was
just part of a very incremental process.
Speaking at a press conference in Beijing yesterday, Dr.
ElBaradei briefed the press as to the results of his visit to North
Korea, striking a carefully considered tone, saying that his visit
had been "quite useful in overcoming rocky relations between the
IAEA and North Korea for 13 years." Over this period, the IAEA has
three times been at loggerheads with North Korea in 1993, 2000 and
2002 over the monitoring of Pyongyang's nuclear programs.
Dr. ElBaradei praised his North Korean hosts, pointing out that
the talks helped clarify the two sides' positions and to "look
forward and build confidence without rehearsing the past." The trip
was successful in better understanding North Korea's apprehensions
and sensitivities while ensuring Pyongyang appreciate the steps to
be taken in terms of monitoring.
Addressing North Korea's commitment to the February 13
agreement, Dr. ElBaradei appeared satisfied, confirming that
Pyongyang remained ready to play its part and to shut down the
Yongbyon reactor, including the reprocessing facility. However, he
did strike a cautious note, reiterating that Pyongyang's
collaboration was guaranteed so long as other countries fulfilled
Of particular importance to North Korea in this regard is the
lifting of financial sanctions against it and the unfreezing of its
Macao accounts, he stressed. Despite reassurances on Tuesday from
top US envoy to the six-party talks Christopher Hill, that the
sanctions would be lifted as promised within 30 days, Dr. ElBaradei
confirmed that the completion of the agreement would hinge upon
this fact. He stated that should the financial sanctions be lifted
within 30 days, then the shutdown of the Yongbyon reactor and
negotiations on allowing IAEA inspectors to return within another
Asked whether any new demands had been made ahead of the
six-party talks, Dr. ElBaradei responded that "no new demands have
been made. North Korea remains ready to implement the agreement
once other parties to do so."
"I was not privy to the February 13th agreement so cannot talk
with authority about it. But should the conditions not been
respected, it will be for the six-party talks to decide the next
He also revealed that North Korea was ready to return to the
fold of the IAEA and invited it to re-apply for membership in good
"I welcome this initiative (North Korea returning to the IAEA)
and I hope North Korea will apply soon so as to allow them to
benefit from the agency's help, not only in terms of monitoring…but
also in terms of education, healthcare and agriculture."
The senior UN official on nuclear non-proliferation also struck
a note of caution, warning media not to get carried away on a wave
of optimism and called upon all parties to hold up their end of the
"The agreement is still fragile, precarious and has taken some
years to obtain. This is a very incremental process, all parties
must work together in an accommodating and patient manner."
Ahead of the six-party talks restarting on Monday, Dr. ElBaradei
is set to brief Chinese officials on his North Korean visit while
also holding meetings with Hill and North Korea's top envoy Kim
Kye-gwan who was reportedly too sick to meet with the IAEA chief
before he flew to Pyongyang.
(China.org.cn by Chris Dalby, March 15, 2007)