The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog, is on his way to North Korea to try to convince the North to allow his inspectors back into the country. VOA's Luis Ramirez reports from Beijing, where IAEA head Mohamed Elbaradei stopped Monday en route to Pyongyang.
North Korea faces a mid-April deadline to shut down its main nuclear complex under the terms of an agreement reached at six-nation negotiations last month. In the February 13 deal, Pyongyang will receive large amounts of fuel oil and diplomatic concessions in exchange for shutting down its Yongbyon nuclear plant within 60 days.
In order to verify that the North Koreans fulfill their end of the bargain, the IAEA wants to send inspectors back into the country. Elbaradei told reporters at the Beijing airport Monday he is in for delicate discussions with North Korea, known officially as the DPRK.
"I hope that we will agree with the DPRK to get our inspectors back in time to implement the agreement of the six-party talk," he said. "I hope that we will be able to agree on modalities to normalize relationship with IAEA and hopefully for the DPRK to come back as [a] full member of the agency."
North Korea expelled IAEA inspectors in 2002 and abandoned the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, triggering a nuclear standoff that escalated last year when Pyongyang detonated its first nuclear device. The test resulted in worldwide condemnation, and prompted U.N. sanctions.
The six-party agreement brokered by China last month aims for North Korea to ultimately dismantle its nuclear weapons programs completely.
In a second phase of the agreement, the North is to fully declare details of its nuclear program or programs to the U.N., and to the other five nations participating in the negotiations.
The participants include China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the United States.
Elbaradei, who was due in Pyongyang on Tuesday, says his visit is only a first step.
"It is going to be [a] very incremental process," he said. "There's a lot of confidence that needs to be built."
Chief U.S. negotiator Christopher Hill last week said North Korea appears to be keeping to the 60-day schedule so far.