N Korea agrees nuclear-arms shutdown steps

North Korea has agreed to wide-ranging United Nations measures to verify a shutdown of its atom-bomb programme, nuclear inspectors said on Tuesday, but doubts arose about when disarmament would begin.

Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the UN watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said he would recommend its 35-nation governing board ratify a new inspector mission to North Korea based on a groundbreaking visit by an IAEA delegation last week.

But the IAEA has said North Korea and five powers dealing with the reclusive Stalinist state must settle on a target date for disabling its Yongbyon nuclear complex, source of its bomb-grade plutonium fuel, before inspectors are deployed.

United States officials in Washington said Pyongyang was now demanding promised shipments of oil before shutting down Yongbyon, raising the spectre of another delay in implementing a February 13 disarmament accord.

A report by ElBaradei detailing results of the five-day preparatory visit by his safeguards deputies urged the IAEA governors to authorise the return of nuclear non-proliferation inspectors whom Pyongyang expelled four-and-a-half years ago.

No opposition was expected at a planned special meeting of the board on July 9 to approve the mission and a supplement to what ElBaradei has complained is a “shoestring” IAEA budget at a time of spreading proliferation challenges like Iran.

His report, obtained by Reuters and circulated to board members on Tuesday, described an 11-part “understanding” on verifying disarmament in North Korea, which stunned the world by test-detonating its first nuclear device last year.

“The agency will install, and service as necessary, appropriate containment and surveillance and other devices to monitor and verify the status of the shutdown and/or sealed facilities and equipment,” it said.

The transparency measures would give inspectors access to all facilities at Yongbyon, including the 5MW reactor, plutonium reprocessing plant, a nuclear fuel fabrication plant, a 50MW reactor under construction and research labs.

Nuclear inventories

Inventories for the sites would be provided later.

North Korea also pledged to seal a 200MW power plant being built at Taechon, which was not visited by the IAEA team.

Inspectors would also be allowed to examine and verify information on the design of closed sites and document this with still photographs or video recordings.

ElBaradei’s report said North Korea had agreed to inform the IAEA in advance if it intended to change the design or status of nuclear sites and equipment so inspectors could assess whether such steps might undermine safeguards.

The accord is a special “ad-hoc arrangement”, and a regular Safeguards Agreement would have to be negotiated later to usher North Korea back into the global non-proliferation treaty, which it abandoned in 2003.

ElBaradei estimated the cost of establishing the monitoring mission at $2,3-million for 2007.

Diplomats accredited to the Vienna-based agency called the IAEA-Pyongyang pact a good start, but said carrying it out required deals on timing and sequencing by the six countries, which Washington said might reconvene next week.—Reuters


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