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Last Updated: Monday, 18 June 2007, 12:33 GMT 13:33 UK
IAEA inspectors to visit N Korea
Satellite view of North Korean nuclear reactor at Yongbyon - file photo 2002
N Korea has pledged to shut down its main reactor at Yongbyon
International nuclear inspectors are to travel to North Korea next week to discuss shutting down its Yongbyon reactor, the UN nuclear watchdog says.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) announcement came two days after the North invited the inspectors back.

Earlier reports from Russia quoted an unnamed North Korean official as saying that Pyongyang plans to shut down Yongbyon in the second half of July.

A bank row that had long held up the process now appears to be resolved.

'Weeks not months'

In a statement, the IAEA said the team would be travelling to Pyongyang in the week beginning on the 25 June.

The visit came at the request of North Korean officials, to "discuss the modalities for verification and monitoring... of the shutdown of the Yongbyon nuclear facility," the statement added.

The weekend announcement by the North to invite back IAEA inspectors was welcomed by its partners in talks on denuclearisation.

US Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, who is currently in Beijing, said he thought the process of shutting the North's nuclear programme could be restarted in "a matter of weeks, not months".

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"Political will is something we are going to need, but from the technical point of view, I think all of it is quite do-able," he told reporters.

Russia's Interfax news agency reported on Monday that the North had set a deadline by which to shut its main nuclear reactor.

"Based on our specialists' evaluations, it will take one month to technically shut down the reactor," a North Korean official was quoted as saying.

"This way, we expect to seal it in accordance with agreements reached at six-party talks in the second half of July 2007."

The source said North Korea thought it "appropriate" to resume six-party talks - which involve the US, China, South Korea, Japan and Russia - after Yongbyon had been sealed.

Banking row

North Korea initially agreed to "shut down and seal" Yongbyon in exchange for aid, in an historic deal agreed at six-party talks in February.

But a deadline set for April to shut Yongbyon came and went, amid a row over North Korean funds frozen in a Macau bank account.

The US blacklisted the bank, Banco Delta Asia (BDA), in 2005, claiming it was a conduit for North Korean proceeds from drug smuggling and counterfeiting.

Although Washington agreed to release the funds following February's deal, the transfer of the money to North Korea has been held up, in part because banks were unwilling to touch the money.

The breakthrough came towards the end of last week when the money finally moved from the BDA to a North Korean account at a bank in Russia, via the US federal reserve.

Christopher Hill said on Monday that he had not received confirmation the money had arrived in a North Korean bank account, but "our understanding is that the matter has been resolved".

"We were aware it is in the Russian banking system. It will be there soon, if it isn't already," he told reporters.




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