North Korea ready for nuclear inspectors’ return: Report

Monday, December 20, 2010

SEOUL - North Korea unexpectedly declared during a visit by a former US diplomat that it was prepared to allow international nuclear inspectors back into the country, a news network reported Monday.

North Korea said it also would sell 12,000 nuclear fuel rods abroad, perhaps to South Korea, according to US-based CNN, which has an anchorman travelling in North Korea with Bill Richardson, a former US ambassador to the UN.

Scientists could use such fuel rods to obtain plutonium, which could be used to produce nuclear weapons, and Richardson had earlier told CNN that there was concern about North Korea’s “export of nuclear materials to other countries”.

Richardson, a former US presidential candidate and current governor of New Mexico, arrived Thursday in Pyongyang on a private reconciliation mission at a time of heightened tensions after North Korea shelled a South Korean island last month, killing four people.

That attack has hampered China’s efforts to revive stalled six-nation negotiations to end Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programme.

North Korea walked away from the talks in April 2009 after a new round of UN sanctions was passed against it. It also expelled international nuclear inspectors from the country.

North Korea said in recent months that it was ready to go back to the negotiating table with South Korea, the US, China, Japan and Russia despite tensions with South Korea, which dramatically rose in March with the sinking of a South Korean warship. The sinking killed 46 sailors, and Seoul blamed it on its neighbour.

No concrete agreement to resume the talks has been reached.

In other developments concerning North Korea:

- South Korea’s armed forces Monday conducted a live-fire artillery exercise on Yeonpyeong, the island North Korea attacked Nov 23. Pyongyang had threatened to respond with “unpredictable self-defensive blows” to the exercises near the disputed Yellow Sea border but on Monday declared it was “not worth reacting” to the drill.

- The UN Security Council was unable to agree on how to respond to the Yeonpyeong attack despite eight hours of closed-door discussions Sunday in New York.

Richardson told CNN that he had urged North Korea not to take any aggressive measures in response to the South Korean drills.

The governor, who has made several similar trips to North Korea, said Pyongyang also agreed to consider his plan for a military commission involving the US and the two Koreas, and for a military hotline between the North and South, CNN reported.

South Korea was reserved in its response to the report. A spokesman for its foreign ministry said it would wait and see what North Korea’s intentions are and how much access it would be willing to give nuclear inspectors.

Filed under: Diplomacy

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