U.N. Approves N. Korea Inspectors' Mission

IAEA's Director General Mohamed ElBaradei briefs the media, during a special meeting on North Korea of the International Atomic Energy Agency's, IAEA, 35-nation board at Vienna's International Center, Monday, July 9, 2007.
AP Photo/Hans Punz
The U.N.'s nuclear agency on Monday agreed to send experts to North Korea to supervise the shut down of its plutonium-producing reactor, the agency's chief Mohamed ElBaradei said.

The International Atomic Energy Agency's board of governors approved the mission at a special session focused on an IAEA report compiled by the agency's deputy director general after a visit late last month to the North's plutonium-producing Yongbyon facility.

"I reported to the board that I'm pleased with the agreement we reached during Mr. Olli Heinonen's, my deputy director general for safeguards, mission to Pyongyang last week."

"He visited facilities at Yongbyon, we agreed on the modalities that need to be taken to shut down ... the four facilities there, with a view to eventual abandonment," ElBaradei told reporters after the meeting.

"This is the beginning of a process. It's going to be a long and complex process, but I welcome the return of the DPRK to the verification process and I look forward to working with them as the verification process evolves," he said.

ElBaradei said timing for the visit depended on when the North Koreans issued an invitation.

"When do we go to the DPRK? I think that depends on the invitation we will receive from DPRK ... our expectation is that it should be in the next week or two, we should be able to go there," ElBaradei said.

"The shutting down of the facilities, according our experts, should not take much time, probably a few days, but then we will have to install cameras and put other ... equipment in place to ensure that we are able to monitor the shutting down of these facilities," he added.

"These activities are going to happen in the next couple of weeks, I hope," ElBaradei said.

Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that senior officials in the Bush administration are hoping the resolution of the nuclear standoff might also provide hope for an official end to more than 50 years of hostility between the U.S. and North Korea.

The Korean War has never been declared over by any treaty, and thousands of American soldiers remain based along the border between North and South Korea, but the newspaper reports U.S. strategists have been working to draw up an official conclusion to that conflict in parallel to the nuclear negotiations.

Citing Christopher Hill, the top U.S. envoy to the North Korea disarmament talks, The Journal says "senior U.S. officials" are trying to devise a peace accord to officially end the 1950-53 Korean War.

According to the report, U.S. officials hope to begin talks with members of the communist regime as early as this winter.

Four months after test-exploding a nuclear bomb, North Korea pledged in February to shut down and disable the 5-megawatt reactor at Yongbyon, which is capable of producing enough plutonium for one nuclear bomb a year, in exchange for economic aid and political concessions.

That landmark agreement was the result of talks between North Korea and the United States, Russia, China, South Korea and Japan.

North Korea refused for months to act on the promise until it received about $25 million in funds that were frozen in a Macau bank in a dispute with the U.S. over alleged money-laundering.

Heinonen's visit was the nuclear watchdog's first trip to the Yongbyon reactor since inspectors were expelled from the country in late 2002. ElBaradei traveled to North Korea in March but had not visited the facility.

ElBaradei reiterated comments about the agency's budgetary needs made behind closed doors earlier. In a statement earlier, ElBaradei said the inspection mission was not foreseen in the agency's budget and asked member states to provide more funding in 2007 and 2008.

Speaking to reporters, ElBaradei said the IAEA was "already receiving pledges" and noted that the United States said at the board meeting it had already committed some money — a few million dollars — for the North Korea mission.

"I think the money is not going to be an issue," ElBaradei said, adding he hoped other countries would also "chip in."

"Ideally, it should have been budgeted under the regular budget," ElBaradei said.

In a statement delivered earlier behind closed doors, ElBaradei said the initial cost of the agency's verification activities in North Korea were estimated at $2.3 million for 2007 and $3 million for 2008, and would cover, among other things, the replacement of cameras and installation of containment and surveillance devices, the purchase of other needed equipment, as well as logistical and staff costs.

"The DPRK case clearly illustrates the need for the agency to have an adequate reserve that can be drawn upon to enable it to respond promptly and effectively to unexpected crises or extraordinary requests, whether in the areas of verification, nuclear and radiological accidents, or other emergencies," Elbaradei said in his closed-door remarks earlier.