Last Updated: Tue Mar 20, 2012 12:55 pm (KSA) 09:55 am (GMT)

U.N. nuclear watchdog receives North Korea invitation

North Korea expelled the IAEA a decade ago when a 1994 deal between Pyongyang and Washington unraveled.(Reuters)
North Korea expelled the IAEA a decade ago when a 1994 deal between Pyongyang and Washington unraveled.(Reuters)

The United Nations nuclear watchdog said on Monday it had received an invitation from North Korea to visit, three years after its inspectors were expelled from the reclusive Asian state.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, a Vienna-based U.N. body, said it received the invitation on March 16 and it would discuss the details of the visit with North Korea and “other parties concerned.”

“Nothing has been decided yet,” IAEA spokeswoman Gill Tudor said, without giving details.

North Korea and the United States announced a deal last month, under which Washington agreed to supply the North with food in exchange for a suspension of nuclear tests, missile launches and uranium enrichment and to allow international inspectors into the country.

But that accord has been thrown into doubt by Pyongyang's announcement on Friday - the same day the IAEA said it received its invitation - that it will launch a long-range rocket carrying a “working” satellite to mark the centenary of founder Kim Il-sung's birth next month.

The United States said the North's plan to launch a satellite could violate its February nuclear moratorium agreement and scuttle the resumption of U.S. food aid.

South Korea on Monday condemned rival North Korea's planned rocket launch as a “grave provocation,” saying it was a disguised attempt to develop a long-range ballistic missile capable of delivering nuclear weapons.

North Korea expelled the IAEA a decade ago when a 1994 deal between Pyongyang and Washington unraveled.

It threw the organization out again in April 2009 after rejecting the intrusive inspections provided for under a 2005 aid deal with five regional powers that allowed the U.N. watchdog to return.

IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano earlier this month said the U.N. agency was preparing for a possible return to North Korea, but was not yet in direct contact with Pyongyang.

It is unclear how much scope for inspections the IAEA will get. The North has limited their access during two previous periods when it allowed inspectors in.

Analysts say North Korea may simply continue covert atomic activity elsewhere. Members of a U.N. expert panel said last year that the secretive state most likely had several more undisclosed enrichment-related facilities.

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