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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

North Korea allows restart of UN nuclear inspections

As the UN nuclear agency was confirming that North Korea has agreed to let UN experts monitor the dismantling of its nuclear program, the reclusive communist nation released photos of leader Kim Jong II that only raised questions about his health.

The photos, the first of Kim seen in two months, show him in a setting very similar to photographs from August. And the verdant background looks more like summer than autumn, adding to uncertainty about Kim's condition after reports he underwent brain surgery.

In Vienna, the International Atomic Energy Agency revealed North Korea's vow that it will allow the UN monitors to be assured the plant that produced plutonium for its test bomb remains disabled.

The moves were a strong indication that Pyongyang was making good on its pledge to return to a deal with the United States, Russia, China, South Korea and Japan meant to strip it of its weapons-enabling nuclear program.

Pyongyang announced Sunday it would resume dismantlement in line with the deal offering political and energy rewards in exchange, after the United States removed North Korea from its list of states sponsoring terrorism.

"The agency inspectors were ... informed today that as of 14 October 2008, core discharge activities at the [nuclear] reactor would be resumed," said a restricted IAEA document to the agency's 35 board members obtained by The Associated Press. It said "monitoring and verification arrangements" of the UN nuclear agency would be restarted.

Separately, IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said its inspectors "will also now be permitted to reapply the containment and surveillance measures at the reprocessing facility."

Up to late last week, the North had threatened to reactivate the plutonium reprocessing plant. It told IAEA inspectors to remove IAEA seals and banned them from monitoring first the plant and then all the facilities at the complex. It also stopped deactivating the Yongbyon reactor.

The North rescinded inspection rights Thursday, but the three-member IAEA team had been allowed to stay.

The still photos and video frame grabs were released Saturday, accompanying a report by North Korean television that Kim visited a military unit. They were the first photos of Kim published since Aug. 14; and in both sets of pictures he wears his trademark dark sunglasses and a khaki jumpsuit. "They didn't appear to have been taken recently," said Kim Yong-hyun, a North Korea expert at Dongguk University in Seoul.

(Source: Newsday)

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