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UN nuclear chief hopes to return to N.Korea

Written by: Staff
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KARLSRUHE, Germany, Mar 25 (Reuters) The head of the UN nuclear watchdog today said he hoped his inspectors would be able to return to North Korea, but said there had been nothing but silence from Pyongyang.

''I hope we will come. I hope I'll go,'' Mohamed ElBaradei, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), told reporters after accepting an award from a German dental institute.

However, ElBaradei said he had yet to receive any invitation from North Korea to go and discuss the return of IAEA inspectors, who were expelled from the reclusive country on December.

31, 2002.

Since the IAEA'S departure, North Korea appears to have acquired nuclear weapons, ElBaradei said in his speech.

ElBaradei said last year he was told by North Korea to expect an invitation to go there -- ostensibly to discuss future IAEA inspections and Pyongyang's possible return to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which it quit in 2003.

The six-party talks of the United States, North Korea, South Korea, China, Russia and Japan aimed at resolving the Korean nuclear crisis have been deadlocked for months, though Pyongyang signalled recently that it may want to reopen discussions.

In his speech, ElBaradei criticised the UN Security Council for its failure to do anything about the North Korean nuclear issue, saying it was one of many examples of how the Council had failed to act effectively to deal with a crisis.

The IAEA board of governors referred the matter of North Korea's nuclear weapons programme to the Security Council in 2003. Earlier this year, the IAEA board did the same with Iran for failing to ease Western concerns about its atomic programme.

REUTERS KD BST1917

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