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IAEA Nuclear Inspectors Prepare For North Korea Visit

  • Kurt Achin

United Nations nuclear inspectors are in Beijing, preparing to head to the North Korean capital to discuss a shutdown of the country's main nuclear reactor. At the same time, a Russian bank has confirmed the final resolution of a money dispute which long obstructed diplomacy on the North Korean nuclear issue. VOA Seoul Correspondent Kurt Achin has more.

A little-known bank in Russia's far eastern city of Khabarovsk said Monday the long-standing dispute involving blocked North Korean funds has been put to rest.

On its web site, Dalkombank announced the disputed $25 million were relayed to a North Korean-controlled account on Monday. Later, the North Korean Central News Agency carried a Foreign Ministry statement confirming the transfer, and saying the funds would be used, in Pyongyang's words, "for improving the lives of our people and other humanitarian purposes."

The funds transfer clears the final hurdle to North Korea's implementation of a February agreement to begin dismantling its nuclear weapons programs. Pyongyang missed a promised deadline to shut down its main nuclear facility in Yongbyon by mid-April, refusing to take any action until its money was returned. The funds were frozen two years ago in a Macau bank by a U.S. investigation.

Olli Heinonen is the chief inspector with the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA. He is in Beijing, where he says he will fly to Pyongyang on Tuesday to get the North's nuclear pledges back on track.

"So, the purpose of this trip is now to go to negotiate details on behalf of the IAEA on verification of the monitoring and closing down of this Yongbyon facilities," he said.

Heinonen and his team of nuclear inspectors are expected to spend five days in the North Korean capital.

The February agreement is the result of diplomatic efforts with the North involving the United States, Russia, Japan, China, and South Korea. The first phase of the agreement obligates Pyongyang to "disable" the Yongbyon facility.

Kim Taewoo, senior nuclear weapons researcher at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses in Seoul, says one of the main tasks for the IAEA team will be to ensure there is no confusion over what "disable" means.

Kim says the term itself means make it impossible to ever restart the facility. The nuclear inspectors will have to establish a clear sequence of actions that will ensure Yongbyon will never run again-- a task Kim believes will make for a very tough negotiation.

International officials say more six-nation negotiations on the North's nuclear programs could take place in Beijing as early as July 10, assuming the Yongbyon shutdown is complete.

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