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18 Jun, 2007 01:13

North Korea invites IAEA inspectors

U.S. nuclear envoy Christopher Hill says he hopes a delegation from the International Atomic Energy Agency will visit North Korea, after Pyongyang invited inspectors to the country.

Christopher Hill hailed North Korea's willingness to cooperate but said there was still a long way to go. The IAEA is to discuss its next steps on Monday.

Hill is in Asia after a breakthrough in North Korea’s troubled denuclearization process. Pyongyang  invited inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency on Saturday after months of stalling and refusing to close down its Yongbyon nuclear reactor.

During a visit to the Mongolian Capital of Ulan Bator, Christopher Hill said the U.S. was pleased with Pyongyang’s cooperation, but stressed there is still a lot of work ahead.

“It is certainly a step without which we would not be able to make progress. So, I would say, we are pleased about it. Everyone has a lot of work to do days and weeks ahead,” said Christopher Hill.

The IAEA has confirmed it had received the invitation and will now be planning further action.

Christopher Hill says he hopes the UN nuclear watchdog will not delay in setting out its next steps.

“We have been hoping to get this call, so actually we will be leaving soon, but you have to ask them,” added Christopher Hill.

At the same time North Korean money that was frozen in the Central Bank of Macau has not yet reached the Russian Dalkombank where Pyongyang has accounts.

That's according to the Russian Finance Minister Aleksey Kudrin, who added that the United States government pledged not to sanction Russia if it transfers north Korean money through its banks.

The original agreement was reached last February at six-party talks involving Russia, the United States, Japan, China, and North and South Korea. Pyongyang had promised to go back to the negotiating table and stop its nuclear activities if North Korean funds frozen in a Macau bank were released.

The $US 25 MLN was frozen in September 2005 following U.S. allegations that Pyongyang was involved in money laundering, counterfeiting and the illegal sale of weapons.

It took several months to find banks which would agree to take part in the money transfer.

At first the funds were channeled through the Central Bank of Macau to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Then through Russia's Central Bank to Dalkombank in Russia's Far East – where Pyongyang has an account.

The transfer slowed down again due to technical problems but is now finally nearing completion.

After North Korea failed to shut down its reactor by the initial deadline in April, Pyongyang’s decision to invite IAEA inspectors has provided a welcome glimmer of hope for the international community.