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Last Updated: Friday, 23 February 2007, 22:54 GMT
N Korea 'invites UN nuclear head'
Mohamed ElBaradei (file picture)
It will be Mohamed ElBaradei's first visit to North Korea as IAEA head
The head of the UN's nuclear agency says he has been invited to North Korea for talks on its nuclear programme.

Mohamed ElBaradei said he hoped to discuss the suspension of North Korea's nuclear activity and the "eventual dismantlement of these facilities".

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the US was "very pleased" at the signs of progress towards that goal.

North Korea agreed to take the first steps towards nuclear disarmament at six-party talks earlier this month.

Under the terms of the deal, Pyongyang has pledged to close its Yongbyon reactor within 60 days in return for fuel aid.

Weapons hope

The visit would be Mr ElBaradei's first to North Korea since becoming head of the IAEA in 1997.

An IAEA spokeswoman said he would probably make the trip in the second week of March, following a meeting of the IAEA's board of governors.

Speaking in Vienna, Mr ElBaradei said he and North Korean officials would discuss how to "implement the agreement reached on the freeze of facilities".

"According to the letter, they would like to improve and normalise the relationship with the agency and hope to go back to being a member of the agency," he said.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who earlier met with Mr ElBaradei, said he hoped the IAEA head would be able to discuss the "dismantlement of all weapons and facilities" with the North Koreans.

He was confident that Mr ElBaradei's trip would "make a great contribution" to implementing the agreement signed at the six-party talks.

'Good sign'

Speaking to reporters in Ottawa, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the US was very pleased by Mr ElBaradei's invitation to North Korea.

The IAEA would "be able to verify compliance with the agreement that is to take place over the next 60 days that would shut down the Pyongyang reactor and would seal it", she said.

US Vice-President Dick Cheney
Dick Cheney said N Korea had much to prove on its nuclear promises

This would allow progress towards disablement of North Korea's nuclear facilities "on the way to the full denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula", she said.

"It is indeed a good sign it has happened as quickly as it has."

US Vice-President Dick Cheney had earlier questioned whether North Korea would abide by its commitments in the nuclear deal, saying the US was going "into this deal with our eyes open".

Meanwhile, South Korea's chief nuclear negotiator said North Korea had tried to develop a second, secret nuclear programme based on the enrichment of uranium.

Chun Yung-woo said, however, that Pyongyang was not thought to be operating such a system at the moment.

The North has long denied US allegations that it was building a uranium programme in addition to its publicly acknowledged plutonium plant.

The dispute is seen as a major obstacle to implementing this month's nuclear agreement, says the BBC's Charles Scanlon in Seoul.

Efforts to find a resolution to the North Korean nuclear issue gained added urgency after Pyongyang conducted its first atomic test in October.

Mohamed ElBaradei welcomes news of the visit

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