Vienna: The International Atomic Energy Agency’s governing body is expected on 9 July to authorise the dispatch of UN monitors to North Korea to verify the shutdown of its atomic bomb programme, diplomats said.
It would be the first mission by nuclear watchdog personnel in the isolated Stalinist state since it ejected IAEA inspectors in 2002 after the United States presented evidence it said pointed to a clandestine effort to refine nuclear fuel.
North Korea cut a deal with five powers in February to mothball the Yongbyon nuclear complex in exchange for fuel oil, and will grant the IAEA team access pending the first 6,200-tonne delivery to energy-starved Pyongyang’s main port.
South Korea said a ship carrying the fuel would leave on Thursday on a voyage likely to take two days.
“The monitors are ready to go in. Exactly when depends on when North Korea says the fuel oil has arrived and (their) inviting in the IAEA team,” an agency diplomat said.
In Vienna, the IAEA’s 35-nation board of governors was poised to approve the mission by consensus in a special session on 9 July, 10 days after senior IAEA and North Korean officials agreed ground rules for verifying the Yongbyon shutdown.
“It’s a no-brainer. Everyone wants this to happen,” said a European diplomat on the board, which has been prone to disputes between industrialised and developing nations in the past.
Diplomats said a team of about nine monitors would install security cameras and place seals on sensitive infrastructure in Yongbyon, where North Korea has produced plutonium, leading to its first test nuclear explosion last October.
Their initial mission is expected to take about two weeks and at least two monitors will stay on site while North Korea and five powers -- the United States, Russia, China, Japan and South Korea -- negotiate further steps towards disarmament.
Diplomats said the five would probably provide the bulk of extra-budgetary financing the IAEA has requested to deal with North Korea. IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei put the cost at 1.7 million euros ($2.3 million) for 2007 and 2.2 million euros in 2008.
Following its ejection of inspectors in 2002, North Korea bolted from the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which the IAEA enforces. In 2005, Pyongyang declared it had nuclear arms, and unnerved the world with a test-detonation a year later.
North Korea agreed on 13 February to close Yongbyon and take steps to disable all its nuclear facilities in exchange for 950,000 more tonnes of fuel oil or aid of equivalent value.
Pyongyang held off launching disarmament for months due to glitches in recovering $25 million in bank funds unfrozen as part of the accord. The money was returned in late June.
South Korea said China may this week announce dates for fresh talks to advance the North’s denuclearisation.
IAEA monitors will have complete access to Yongbyon’s five-megawatt reactor, plutonium reprocessing plant, nuclear fuel fabrication plant, a 50-megawatt reactor under construction, and research labs.
But the pact is a limited ad hoc arrangement, not a fully-fledged IAEA inspections regime. That would have to be negotiated later as part of a new Safeguards Agreement to bring North Korea back into the NPT.
Iran, an NPT member, has been the IAEA’s major concern since 2003 for obstructing agency inquiries meant to verify whether it is enriching uranium only for electricity generaion, as it says, or for atom bombs as Western powers suspect.