DPRK agrees to allow return of UN inspectors

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Pyongyang has agreed to allow the return of UN inspectors following discussions with visiting New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, CNN reported on Monday.

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"The North agreed to allow International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) personnel to return to a nuclear facility in the country and agreed to negotiate the sale of 12,000 fresh fuel rods and ship them to an outside country, presumably to South Korea," CNN quoted its reporter Wolf Blitzer as saying, who is traveling with Richardson.

"The fuel rods would be enough to make about six to eight nuclear weapons," CNN said.

IAEA chief Yukiya Amano said in Tokyo on Friday that the nuclear watchdog has an essential role to play on the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue and is ready to send its inspectors to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) again once an agreement is worked out.

The DPRK stopped cooperation with the IAEA in April last year, requiring the overall withdrawal of its inspectors, as the peninsula's nuclear issue slid again into a deadlock.

The DPRK has also agreed to consider Richardson's proposal for a military commission between the United States, the DPRK and South Korea as well as a hotline for militaries between the two sides on the peninsula, CNN said.

Richardson arrived in Pyongyang on Thursday at the invitation of Kim Kye Gwan, the first vice-minister of the DPRK Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and is scheduled to leave on Monday. The outgoing governor has kept a comparatively close relationship with the DPRK with eight visits there since 1996. The U.S. State Department stressed that the visit is a private one and will not carry any particular message from the U.S. government.

CNN said that Richardson urged the DPRK not to take "aggressive steps" in response to South Korea's planned live artillery drills on Monday.

Despite the DPRK's warnings, South Korea went ahead on Monday with a live-firing drill from the western border island of Yeonpyeong shelled last month by the DPRK.

The drill came amid rising tensions following the DPRK's artillery bombardment of Yeonpyeong Island on Nov. 23, killing two South Korean marines and two civilians.

The DPRK on Saturday accused the United States of goading South Korea into provoking it, saying South Korea's plan to hold firing drills again on Yeonpyeong Island was an "intolerable tease" and "absolutely unfair bellicose provocation," and would lead the situation on the peninsula to an explosion.

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