The UN atomic agency IAEA has begun consultations with North Korea over a possible visit to the country by its inspectors to monitor its nuclear activities, a spokeswoman said Thursday.
This comes as neighbour South Korea prepares to host a nuclear security summit in Seoul next week, with Pyongyang's atomic programme likely one of the hot topics.
"I can confirm that the IAEA has started consultations with the DPRK (North Korea) about its invitation," International Atomic Energy Agency spokeswoman Gill Tudor told AFP by phone Thursday.
She could not yet say however when the consultations would end and when the inspectors' visit to the isolated country might take place.
North Korea expelled UN inspectors in 2009, but announced earlier this week that it had invited them back to monitor a nuclear freeze deal with the United States.
On February 29, Pyongyang had agreed to suspend its uranium enrichment programme, along with long-range missile launches and nuclear tests, in return for 240,000 tonnes of US food.
It also promised to readmit IAEA inspectors after a three-year absence.
However, a planned satellite launch next month -- to coincide with mass celebrations marking the 100th anniversary of the birth of nation founder Kim Il-Sung -- has raised fears again that the North is seeking to develop long-range missiles that could one day carry a nuclear warhead.
The United States, Japan, Russia and other nations have called for the communist regime to scrap the plan, and even close ally China has expressed concern, although Pyongyang insists the April test will be peaceful.
A UN Security Council resolution passed in 2009 bans the North from conducting any more nuclear tests or from launching a ballistic missile for any purpose.
On March 26-27, world leaders, including US President Barack Obama, will meet in Seoul for a summit focused on tackling nuclear terrorism.
But the North's atomic programme -- and how Pyongyang can be pressed to give up its launch idea -- is widely expected to be debated on the sidelines.
North Korea is thought to have enough plutonium for perhaps six to eight nuclear weapons, but it is unclear whether it can yet build an atomic warhead for a missile.
The regime, now led by Kim Jong-Un who succeeded his late father Kim Jong-Il in December, first disclosed its enrichment programme in November 2010, and carried out nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009.
Â© 2012 AFP
Date: Mar 22, 2012