North Korea’s capital Pyongyang is seen June 14, 2007. North Korea’s state news agency said late on Saturday the communist country had invited a working-level delegation of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to visit.
Officials in South Korea and the United States today welcomed a move by North Korea to invite the United Nations nuclear watchdog back to the Communist state for the first time in four and a half years to discuss shutting down the North’s main nuclear complex.
In an announcement carried by its official press media, North Korea said late Saturday that it had sent the invitation to the International Atomic Energy Agency because a banking dispute with Washington that had been blocking progress toward the North’s nuclear disarmament ”has reached its final phase.”
”We welcome the North Korean move as good news,” Han Hye Jin, a spokeswoman for the South Korean Foreign Ministry, said today by telephone. ”We hope the Feb. 13 agreement will be implemented as quickly as possible following consultations between North Korea and I.A.E.A.”
”This is a good step,” said Scott Stanzel, a White House spokesman. He echoed Ms. Han’s hopes that the Feb. 13 agreement, in which North Korea said it would close its main nuclear complex, would be implemented.
North Korea did not clarify whether the invitation meant that it would start shutting down its reactor, which produces raw material for bomb-making plutonium.
North Korea initially agreed on Feb. 13 to close its main nuclear complex in Yongbyon, south of Pyongyang, by April 14 and allow U.N. inspectors to monitor and verify the action, in a first significant step toward what Washington hopes will the North’s complete dismantling of all nuclear weapons facilities. But that step has been delayed for more than two months, raising doubts about the deal struck among the United States, North Korea and four other countries.
The invitation from Pyongyang came after North Korean funds frozen at Banco Delta Asia, a small bank in the Chinese gambling enclave of Macao, finally began to be transferred last week.
North Korea is already two months behind in their schedule to start dismantling their nuclear facilities. This may be a welcome sign but the United States must be prepared to enforce further economic sanctions should Kim Jong-Il renege on the deal.
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