North Korea allows back nuclear inspectors

They'll be able to monitor the main nuclear complex, but not anywhere else.

North Korea has agreed to allow United Nations inspectors back into its main nuclear complex at Yongbyon, in response to the United States' decision to remove the North from its list of states sponsoring terrorism.

Inspectors prepared to resume monitoring disablement of the facility Monday after North Korea relayed word of its decision to the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency headquarters in Vienna.

The agreement is seen as a compromise in US efforts to get Pyongyang back to disabling its nuclear program. While averting crisis, it leaves the next administration to negotiate on critical elements of the North's nuclear program not covered in the current deal.

"The administration was pushing for a much broader agreement," says Scott Snyder, a senior scholar at the Washington-based Asia Foundation.

The deal says nothing about the right of inspectors to go elsewhere, he points out, including the site of the nuclear test and suspected facilities for research and development on enriched uranium.

"This agreement promises access to all declared facilities based on mutual consent," continues Mr. Snyder, author of a book on negotiating with North Korea. "That's just an agreement to disagree. There's a lot of work for the next administration to ensure denuclearization. What they've done is settle for a certain type of understanding that gives this administration a sense of closure."

"What you have now is something very limited and manageable," says Jack Pritchard, former US nuclear envoy. "It's watered down. They still have to negotiate a list of things."

North Korea, which had accused President Bush of going back on his word by not removing the North from America's list of nations sponsoring terrorism, welcomed the agreement.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced North Korea's removal from the State Department's list of terrorist nations Saturday, after North Korea showed signs of resuming development of nuclear weapons at the Yongbyon facility.

North Korea had shut down the facility's five-megawatt reactor but barred inspectors from the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency from entering the complex. There also were indications that North Korea was preparing for a nuclear test similar to that of Oct. 9, 2006, which spurred the resumption of six-nation talks on the North's nuclear program. Those negotiations led to an agreement Feb. 13, 2007, on a deal for North Korea to abandon its nuclear efforts.

The latest agreement "will button down Yongbyon," but it "looks pretty bad after two weeks of North Korean saber-rattling," says Victor Cha, former Asia director of the National Security Council.

Major issues untouched by the agreement are North Korea's enriched uranium program – under which the North had begun developing warheads with uranium at their core – and proliferation of its nuclear expertise and components.

North Korea has denied existence of an enriched uranium program ever since a top North Korean official appeared to have acknowledged it in 2002, when then-US nuclear envoy James Kelly visited Pyongyang.

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