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DPRK to let US visit nuke site, South Korea says
( 2004-01-02 21:00) (Agencies)

A U.S. delegation will visit the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) next week, a South Korean official said Friday, and reportedly will tour the DPRK's controversial nuclear complex at Yongbyon.

The USA Today newspaper said the January 6-10 visit had been approved by the Bush administration and a top nuclear scientist would be in the delegation.

It would mark the first time outsiders have been allowed inside the reclusive country's nuclear complex since U.N. inspectors were expelled a year ago in the midst of DPRK's confrontation with the United States over its nuclear ambitions.

A South Korean foreign ministry official, while confirming a U.S. delegation would visit DPRK, was unsure if the team would be touring the Yongbyon complex.

"I would not want to put too much meaning to the visit," he said. "It is difficult to use the visit as a gauge of the next round of six-party talks."

DPRK is thought to be developing nuclear weapons at the Soviet-era Yongbyon complex. The United States and its allies are trying to get DPRK to abandon the program in exchange for aid and better ties with the West.

USA Today said the U.S. delegation would include Sig Hecker, director from 1985 to 1997 of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, which produced the first U.S. nuclear bomb and still constructs weapons.

Hecker had been told he can visit Yongbyon, where the North Koreans may have reprocessed used fuel to make plutonium for a half dozen bombs, the paper cited members of the delegation as saying.


A State Department spokesman, Lou Fintor, said the United States was continuing to discuss matters related to six-party talks it hopes to hold with DPRK.

The other parties involved in the talks are China, Japan, South Korea and Russia. A first round ended inconclusively in August, 2003 and diplomats expect a second round will be held early this year.

"We do not wish to get into the details of our diplomatic exchanges," he said in response to a query about the report.

By inviting Hecker to Yongbyon, the government of Kim Jong Il may want to prove it has nuclear weapons as a way of bolstering a tough negotiating stance, the newspaper said.

It may also want to try to defuse tension by showing that its nuclear sites will be open to inspection if a deal is reached, the report added.

DPRK acknowledged a secret program to enrich uranium for bombs in 2002, according to U.S. officials. They said this broke a 1994 deal that froze the DPRK's nuclear program, and the administration ended fuel oil shipments called for by the pact.

DPRK then expelled inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency and apparently resumed its bomb-making efforts at Yongbyon.

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