UN inspectors satisfied with visit to North Korean reactor site

U.N. nuclear monitors said Friday they were able to see all that they wanted on their visit to the plutonium-producing reactor that North Korea has pledged to shut down in return for aid.

The team from the International Atomic Energy Agency returned Friday to the North Korean capital from a two-day trip to the Yongbyon nuclear complex, saying the facilities were still operating but that the monitors were satisfied with the visit, broadcaster APTN reported.

"We visited all the places which we were planning to," IAEA Deputy Director Olli Heinonen said in footage shot by APTN, adding that "the cooperation was excellent and now we continue the meetings still in Pyongyang now."

It was the first IAEA visit to the facility since U.N. monitors were expelled from the country in 2002, and was an indication that North Korea may soon fulfill its long-delayed pledge to shut the facility. However, Heinonen did not indicate a timeline for the closure.

"It's not yet the point of shutdown so that is still to come," he said. Asked by a reporter, however, how many facilities at the complex would likely be closed, he answered, "I think five."

Heinonen said that in addition to Yongbyon's key 5-megawatt reactor, his team also saw a 50-megawatt one under construction, the fuel fabrication plant and reprocessing plant.

The 5-megawatt reactor, believed capable of churning out enough plutonium for one atomic bomb a year, is at the center of international efforts to halt North Korea's nuclear program. North Korea mounted its first atomic test explosion last October.

The IAEA's five-day trip to North Korea through Saturday is aimed at discussing details of how to verify that Pyongyang shuts down the reactor as promised in a February accord following six-party talks with the U.S., China, Japan, Russia and South Korea.

Movement on the back was delayed for months by a recently resolved financial dispute between North Korea and the United States.

Heinonen had said on Thursday that the two-day trip to Yongbyon - the first IAEA visit there since U.N. monitors were expelled from North Korea in 2002 - could give a better indication of when North Korea would shut the reactor down.

"We are here to negotiate the arrangements, so let's see now when we get to Friday evening what we have on the table," Heinonen said in footage broadcast by APTN in Pyongyang before he departed for the Yongbyon reactor.

In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Thursday she hoped for a swift shutdown.

"We hope for now rapid progress given the beginning, we believe, of the North Korean efforts to meet their initial action obligations," Rice said, before meeting South Korean Foreign Minister Song Min-soon .

Song told reporters after the meeting that six-party nuclear talks with North Korea can resume even before the North's reactor closure is completed, as long as Pyongyang starts the shutdown, Yonhap news agency reported.

The Foreign Ministry in Seoul could not immediately confirm the comments.

Though North Korea pledged to close Yongbyon in exchange for economic aid and political concessions, it ignored an April deadline to do so because of a dispute with Washington over North Korean funds frozen in a Macau bank because U.S. allegations of money laundering and other wrongdoing.

That was finally settled this week after months of delays, and North Korea said Monday it would move forward with the disarmament deal.

The February agreement's initial phase calls for North Korea to shut the Yongbyon reactor and receive 50,000 tons heavy fuel oil assistance.