TOPICS > Nation

U.N. Weapons Inspectors to Enter North Korea

BY Admin  July 9, 2007 at 2:45 PM EST

Spent nuclear fuel rods in water

The vote came during a special session of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s board of governors and aims to be the first step in the path to North Korea’s eventual nuclear disarmament.

The government in Pyongyang is expected to admit IAEA officials later this week when North Korea receives the first benefits from a February disarmament agreement.

The deal, brokered by the United States, Russia, Japan, South Korea and China, pledged to send 950,000 tons of oil or equivalent monetary aid to North Korea in exchange for shutting down the country’s Yongbyon reactor. South Korean officials said an oil tanker with the first shipment of fuel would depart Thursday on a voyage likely to take two days, Reuters reported.

IAEA inspectors will mount security cameras and seal access points to the Yongbyon facility, the reactor which produced the plutonium for North Korea’s first nuclear test last October.

Mohamed ElBaradei, the IAEA director, told Reuters he believed inspectors would enter the country within the next two weeks.

“Shutting down the facilities according to our experts will not take much time — probably a few days,” ElBaradei said.

Once the security equipment is in place, at least two IAEA inspectors will stay at the facility indefinitely to ensure that plutonium production does not resume.

The IAEA mission will be the agency’s first presence in North Korea since 2002 when Pyongyang banned inspections in response to Bush administration accusations of a secret nuclear program. At that time, North Korea also pulled out of the IAEA-enforced nuclear nonproliferation treaty.

The February accord guaranteed only that North Korea would cease further nuclear production but did not force Pyongyang to turn over existing nuclear weapons and material.

IAEA officials, however, hope halting production at Yongbyon will lead to further disarmament and the return of North Korea to the nuclear treaty, which will likely require additional six-party talks.

“This is the beginning of [what is] going to be a long and complex process,” ElBaradei told Reuters.