IAEA Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei says he now hopes to rebuild cooperation between international nuclear inspectors and North Korea four years after inspectors were expelled from the country.
El-Baradei expressed his hopes for progress before leaving from China today for Pyongyang.
"We should be able to make some progress on how we can work closer with the DPRK [North Korea] after many years of estrangement, and also how to see ways and means to implement the six-party agreement," el-Baradei told journalists in Beijing today.
The Beginning Of Implementation
Under a February 13 six-party deal between China, Japan, North and South Korea, Russia, and the United States -- Pyongyang agreed to "seal and shut" its only nuclear reactor in 60 days in exchange for aid.
El-Baradei's visit is seen as an effort to now bring North Korea back closer to the IAEA. North Korea expelled IAEA inspectors in 2002, after U.S. officials accused the country of running a secret uranium-enrichment program.
El-Baradei called his trip to North Korea an important part of initial steps to implement the new deal.
"I think obviously these initial steps will be important -- significant, in fact -- in moving the six-party talks forward," he said.
However, el-Baradei played down expectations for any rapid disarmament of North Korea. He told reporters that normalizing relations with Pyongyang will be "a very incremental process," and "there's a lot of confidence that needs to be built."
Six-Party Talks To Continue
El-Baradei is expected to return to Beijing on March 14. His mission in North Korea comes ahead of the resumption of the six-party talks in China's capital on March 19.
The U.S. State Department says that Washington's chief negotiator in those talks, Christopher Hill, is due to arrive in Beijing on March 14 and will meet with el-Baradei before the six-party meetings.
Under the agreement reached in February, the IAEA is supposed to monitor and verify the shutdown of the Yongbyon nuclear reactor and a reprocessing facility.
After closing the Yongbyon nuclear reactor, Pyongyang would get 50,000 tons of fuel or the equivalent value in economic aid.
After disabling all its nuclear faculties, Pyongyang would get a further 950,000 tons of fuel oil or the equivalent value in economic aid.