Wed, Aug 01, 2007 - Page 5 News List

IAEA says N Korea cooperating fully with inspections


North Korea has cooperated fully with UN inspectors after shutting down its main nuclear reactor site, the head of the monitoring team said yesterday after their first two-week mission ended.

"I should say that in doing our activities we had complete cooperation from DPRK [North Korean] authorities," Adel Tolba, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspection team, told reporters after arriving in Beijing.

"And because of that we think that what we needed to perform was performed," he said.

Tolba said his team had inspected the closure of North Korea's main plutonium-producing nuclear reactor at Yongbyon, which was shut down on July 14 in the first step of a landmark disarmament accord.

Tolba's team arrived on the same day, beginning the first UN monitoring mission of North Korea's nuclear weapons programs since IAEA inspectors were kicked out of the country in 2002.

The closure of Yongbyon and return of IAEA inspectors were the first steps in the February six-nation accord under which North Korea agreed to eventually scrap all its nuclear programs in exchange for aid, diplomatic concessions and security guarantees.

During their two weeks there, the inspectors also monitored four other nuclear facilities near Yongbyon that were shut down.

Tolba declined to say anything more about the mission, other than that all five facilities were inspected and that the IAEA headquarters in Vienna would give a fuller account of the team's activities.

A second team of UN inspectors arrived in North Korea on Saturday to take over from Tolba's delegation.

North Korea confirmed that it would abide by the February agreement this month during a fresh round of the six-party talks -- grouping the two Koreas, China, the US, Japan and Russia -- in Beijing.

Despite the forward momentum on the nuclear impasse, observers warned that tensions could erupt again, and that there was nothing irreversible about what North Korea had done so far.

"The crisis is never over. It's only probably postponed," said Ralph Cossa, president of Honolulu-based think tank Pacific Forum CSIS. "Tomorrow they could throw the IAEA back out and start things up again."

Under the next phase of the accord, working group meetings will be held this month to negotiate and set a deadline for North Korea to declare and disable all its nuclear programs.

No one is sure how much plutonium, which is used to make nuclear bombs, was produced before Yongbyon was shut down, while the US also believes North Korea is running a secret highly enriched uranium project.

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