(Reuters) - North Korea has told U.S. diplomatic troubleshooter Bill Richardson it is willing to allow nuclear inspectors to return to the country, CNN reported on Monday.
The news came as the North backed off from a threat to strike back if South Korea went ahead with live-fire artillery exercises staged earlier in the day.
CNN, which was accompanying New Mexico governor Richardson on an unofficial trip to Pyongyang, said the North had “agreed to allow International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) personnel to return to a nuclear facility in the country and agreed to negotiate the sale of 12,000 ... fuel rods and ship them to an outside country, presumably to South Korea.”
Following are comments from analysts about what the latest developments could mean:
TADASHI KIMIYA, PROFESSOR AT THE UNIVERSITY OF TOKYO:
“At the foreign ministers meeting, Japan, the United States and South Korea have set higher hurdles for North Korea. Allowing back in inspectors are also included in there, but the three countries have set some other conditions.
“This is just referring to Yongbyon’s (North Korea’s main nuclear facility) plutonium issue. What’s becoming serious now is the issue of highly enriched uranium ... To merely refer to the plutonium development without mentioning the highly enriched uranium issue seems somewhat delusive.
“It certainly is a change compared to nothing taking place, but (the North has recently shown that) it has developed highly enriched uranium to such a level, and if they are doing that much above the ground, it’s only natural to think that they are doing something more underground.”
MARK FITZPATRICK, NUCLEAR EXPERT AT INTERNATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR STRATEGIC STUDIES:
“There is obviously a large element of gamesmanship in North Korean’s reported offer. It’s a way to entice the US and its allies to return to six-party talks, to discuss what the North Koreans would expect in exchange for these offers.
“But the suggestions should not be brushed aside as inconsequential. Having IAEA inspectors back inside the country will be necessary for any long-term solution and would be very useful in the short term to know the status of the various nuclear programs.
“Getting the fuel rods out of the country would similarly be part of a long-term solution and may help confirm whether the plutonium program has run its course.
“Notwithstanding recent North Korean provocations at some point Washington, Seoul and Tokyo need to re-engage with North Korea on the nuclear front. And now it appears there might be something worthwhile to talk about.”
KIM YONG-HYUN, NORTH KOREA EXPERT AT DONGGUK UNIVERSITY
“It means that they are prepared to give up, at least in part, the plutonium program, which has been the source of the fuel rods they came up with. It would be considerable progress, if true.”
MARK HIBBS, PROLIFERATION EXPERT AT THE CARNEGIE ENDOWMENT FOR INTERNATIONAL PEACE
“It puts pressure on South Korea ... it also is a move which would be calculated to take pressure off of North Korea from China.
There has been an intense level of diplomacy behind the scenes going on in the last several weeks involving China, South Korea, Japan and the United States to try to press China to rein in ... North Korea, to reduce the threat coming from North Korea. “The North is anticipating, if it hasn’t happened already, they are anticipating a greater pressure from China on North Korea. They want basically to deflect that pressure by taking a step which China then could argue vis-a-vis the United States, Japan and South Korea is a step which should prompt the other countries in the six-party group not to increase pressure on North Korea but to walk it back.”
DIPLOMATIC SOURCE IN VIENNA
“North Korea is not a member of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. When the IAEA was in North Korea for the last 15 years it was on an ad hoc basis, the first time to help verify progress of the 1994 agreed framework and later to verify progress of the six-party denuclearization agreement.
“There is no such international agreement at this point that is calling for the IAEA to help, so a unilateral call by North Korea simply raises questions: what would they ask the IAEA to do?”
Reporting by Jack Kim in Seoul, Yoko Kubota in Tokyo and Fredrik Dahl in Vienna; Compiled by Alex Richardson
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