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U.N.'S Nuclear Watchdog To Visit North Korea

INCHEON, South Korea (AP) _ A stalled process to dismantle Pyongyang's nuclear programs could resume within weeks now that a dispute over the transfer of North Korean funds is over, U.S. nuclear envoy Christopher Hill said Monday.

Meanwhile, Russia's Interfax-China news agency said the North plans to shut down the Yongbyon nuclear reactor _ its main processing facility _ in the second half of July.

The report, which cited an unnamed North Korean official in Beijing, said the regime also proposes to hold the next round of six-nation disarmament talks after that action is completed.

Also Monday, the International Atomic Energy Agency, U.N.'s nuclear watchdog, said it will send a team to North Korea next week to discuss how the agency's inspectors would verify the shutdown of the reactor.

Hill, who arrived in South Korea late Monday from Beijing after talks there with his Chinese counterpart, said there was still a lot of work to do to get the process back on track after it was stalled for months by a dispute over $25 million in funds that were frozen in a Macau bank.

``There will be a lot of consultations in the next few days and we will figure out when we can next have a six-party meeting,'' Hill told reporters upon arrival in South Korea.

Hill planned to have dinner later Monday with his South Korean counterpart and planned other meetings Tuesday before flying on to Tokyo for more consultations.

Over the weekend, North Korea invited IAEA inspectors, a development that Hill said ``represents an important pivot away from banking matters that have held us up for a long time back toward the subject that I think is most important _ that is denuclearization.''

``Political will is something we are going to need, but from the technical point of view I think all of it is quite doable,'' Hill told reporters at a briefing in Beijing after a less than 10-hour stop in the Chinese capital. ``Our sense is that it will be down to a matter of weeks, not months'' to restart the process.

He said North Korea had to close and seal its Yongbyon reactor, and IAEA inspectors had to monitor that.

In a statement Monday, the IAEA said a team led by Deputy Director General for Safeguards Olli Heinonen would travel to Pyongyang in the week starting June 25. The visit was requested by North Korea.

North Korea said Saturday that a ``working-level delegation'' had been invited to discuss procedures for the verification and monitoring of the reactor's shutdown. North Korea expelled IAEA inspectors in December 2002.

``Based on our specialists' evaluations, it will take one month to technically shut down the reactor. This way, we expect to seal it in accordance with agreements reached at six-party talks in the second half of July 2007,'' Interfax-China news agency quoted the North Korean official as saying.

``In our opinion, the sixth round should be restarted after Yongbyon nuclear reactor has been sealed,'' the diplomat said, adding that IAEA experts will be invited back a second time to make sure the reactor has been sealed.

In Incheon, Hill said that the IAEA will be able to ``monitor the shutdown and sealing of this plant.'' Regarding the timing of the next six-party meeting, Hill said, ``I think probably it would be held after shutdown of the facilities.''

Hill said the participants in six-nation talks on North Korea's nuclear disarmament _ the U.S., host China, Russia, Japan and the two Korea _ should now move to fully implement the February agreement.

North Korea had refused to move on its February pledge to shut down the Yongbyon reactor until it receives the funds frozen in Banco Delta Asia, which the U.S. said was used by Pyongyang's government to pass fake $100 bills and launder money from weapons sales.

Claiming the financial freeze was a sign of Washington's hostility, North Korea boycotted the six-nation talks for more than a year, during which it conducted its first-ever atomic bomb test last October.

South Korea plans to start shipping 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil to North Korea by the time it shuts down its nuclear reactor, South Korean chief nuclear envoy Chun Yung-woo has said, adding preparations could begin in the coming weeks.

The North is to eventually receive further energy or other aid equivalent to 950,000 tons of heavy fuel oil in return for irreversibly disabling the reactor and declaring all nuclear programs.
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