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UN monitors set to go to N.Korea after IAEA meeting

By Staff
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VIENNA, July 8 (Reuters) The International Atomic Energy Agency is poised to send a team to North Korea this week to verify the shutdown of its atom bomb project after IAEA governors give an expected go-ahead tomorrow, diplomats said.

It will be the first mission by UN nuclear watchdog monitors since North Korea expelled the agency's inspectors in 2002 after the United States presented evidence it said pointed to a covert uranium enrichment programme.

Diplomats said a nine-strong monitoring team would install security cameras and place seals on the five wings of the Yongbyon nuclear complex where Pyongyang has produced plutonium, leading to its first test nuclear explosion last October.

Pyongyang cut a deal in February to mothball Yongbyon in exchange for fuel oil, and will grant the IAEA team access pending the first 6,200 tonne delivery to energy-starved North Korea's main port.

''The monitors are ready to go later this week. It depends on North Korea saying the fuel oil has arrived and (their) inviting in the IAEA team,'' an IAEA diplomat said.

South Korea said a ship carrying the fuel would leave on Thursday on a voyage likely to take two days. The monitors could fly to Pyongyang on Thursday or Saturday, the diplomat said.

Their initial mission is expected to take about two weeks, while a smaller IAEA team plans remain on site while North Korea and five powers -- the United States, Russia, China, Japan and South Korea -- negotiate further steps towards disarmament.

In Vienna, the IAEA's 35-nation board of governors is expected to authorise the mission tomorrow, based on a deal on monitoring rules reached in Pyongyang in June.

Diplomats said major IAEA contributors, led by Washington, would pledge requested financing for the mission. IAEA director Mohamed ElBaradei has submitted a budget of 1.7 million euros (2.3 million dollars) for 2007 and 2.2 million euros in 2008.

Following its ejection of inspectors in 2002, North Korea bolted from the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which the IAEA enforces. In 2005, Pyongyang declared it had nuclear arms, and unnerved the world with a test-detonation a year later.

AD HOC MONITORING Under the Feb 13 deal, North Korea agreed to shut down Yongbyon and take steps to disable all its nuclear facilities in exchange for 950,000 more tonnes of fuel oil or aid of equivalent value.

South Korea said China may announce this week dates for fresh talks to advance the North's denuclearisation.

But getting Pyongyang to go from a freeze to the elimination of its nuclear capability -- and plutonium stockpile -- is seen as a much tougher challenge, as it is the Stalinist North's sole source of clout in a world it sees as widely hostile.

The IAEA monitors will have complete access to Yongbyon's five-megawatt reactor, plutonium reprocessing plant, nuclear fuel fabrication plant, a 50-megawatt reactor under construction, and research labs.

But the pact is an ad hoc arrangement, not a full-fledged inspections regime covering the whole country. That would have to be negotiated later as part of a new Safeguards Agreement to ease North Korea back into the NPT.

After months of dispute, tomorrow's board gathering was also expected to approve a compromise IAEA budget for 2008-09 after the agency's Secretariat cut a requested rise from 2 per cent to 1.4 per cent above the inflation rate.

ElBaradei has complained of ''shoestring funding'' of the IAEA by industrialised states, eroding its ability to tackle spreading proliferation risks, like Iran's uranium enrichment.

Tomorrow's IAEA board will not address Iran. But an IAEA delegation will have talks in Iran later this week to start fleshing out Tehran's pledge to produce answers for a longstanding IAEA investigation into its nuclear programme.

REUTERS PD BST1846

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