The chief inspector of the United Nation's nuclear watchdog arrived in China today on his way to North Korea, where he hopes to arrange the return of an IAEA team to monitor Pyongyang's promised reactor shutdown.
North Korea agreed in February to mothball its Yongbyon reactor, the centrepiece of its nuclear program and source of weapons-grade plutonium.
In exchange, impoverished North Korea will receive fuel aid and other benefits, including steps to lift trade sanctions and its removal from a US list of state sponsors of terrorism.
"Now we are going to negotiate how to verify and make sure the reactor will be shut down and sealed, so this is the next step on this long trip," Olli Heinonen, deputy director in charge of global nuclear safeguards at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), told reporters at Beijing's international airport.
North Korea ejected IAEA inspectors in December 2002 and left the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty shortly afterwards.
In 2005, North Korea announced it had nuclear weapons. Last year, the country test-detonated its first nuclear device, drawing widespread condemnation and UN financial and arms sanctions.
Asked if his four-member team would visit the Yongbyon reactor, Heinonen said: "Let's see when we get there how the arrangements are."
The team is due to arrive in Pyongyang tomorrow and is expected to stay for five days in the country. Heinonen said earlier that negotiations would last two to three days.
Heinonen was also asked how long it might take to shut the nuclear reactor.
"It's pretty much up to them how they shut it down. It depends on whether they have done preparations or not," he said. "We will find out once we get there."
North Korea had refused to honour the February agreement until the release of $US25 million ($A29.5 million) at Macau's Banco Delta Asia, frozen after the United States blacklisted the bank, accusing it of laundering illicit funds for the reclusive country.
On June 14, the government of Chinese-controlled Macau said the money had been released and Moscow has since confirmed that the funds were transferred to a Russian bank.
US envoy Christopher Hill, who made a surprise overnight trip to the East Asian state last week, said in Tokyo on Saturday that North Korea would shut down Yongbyon very soon, probably within three weeks.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she expected North Korea to live up to its pledge, but added it was unclear how long this would take due to the technical issues involved.
"There are positive signals, at this point, from the North Koreans about their intention to carry forward on their obligations. We'll see," Rice told reporters on Sunday as she flew to Paris.
1. Iran and IAEA Agree to Devise ´┐ŻAction Plan´┐Ż on Nuclear Issues
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The International Atomic Energy Agency today announced that following talks in Vienna between its chief and a senior official from Tehran, the IAEA will send a team to Iran as part of efforts to resolve outstanding issues over the country's nuclear ambitions.
The announcement followed a meeting on Sunday between IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei and Dr. Ali Larijani, Secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council.
"Dr. Larijani invited the IAEA to send a team to Tehran to develop an action plan for resolving outstanding issues related to Iran's past nuclear programme," said IAEA spokesperson Melissa Fleming in a statement, which added that the Agency "intends to send a team as early as practicable."
The two officials had previously announced that Iran and the IAEA would start work on drafting a plan of action to address all outstanding issues regarding Iran's nuclear programme, which Tehran says is entirely peaceful but which other countries charge is driven by military ambitions.
Earlier this month, Mr. ElBaradei told the IAEA Board of Directors that Iran "continues to perfect its knowledge relevant to enrichment, and to expand the capacity of its enrichment facility." He also noted that the Agency still lacks the capacity to verify the absence of undeclared nuclear activities.
The new plan of action would be part of a broader political understanding that Mr. Larijani will discuss with the European Union negotiator Javier Solana, the IAEA said in a news release.
"I hope that in the next few weeks we should be able to start drawing a plan of action which I hope we should be able to conclude within two months and then start with the implementation of such a plan," said Dr. ElBaradei.
"I welcome this development because, as I have been saying for the last couple of years, this is key to our ability to be able to provide assurance about Iran's nuclear programme."
At a press conference held at the IAEA's two-hour meeting on Friday, Dr. ElBaradei said that he and Mr. Larijani had a "good exchange" on how the negotiations between Iran and the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany should be revived.
"We will continue to work together on the two fronts of verification and diplomacy. Establishing the facts on the ground, which is our job, would enable the development of a diplomatic solution," he said.
In December, 2006, the Security Council adopted a resolution banning trade with Iran in all items, materials, equipment, goods and technology which could contribute to the country's enrichment-related, reprocessing or heavy water-related activities, or to the development of nuclear weapon delivery systems. It tightened the measures in March, banning arms sales and expanding the freeze on assets.
2. EU Talks with Iran on Nuclear Program Called ´┐ŻConstructive´┐Ż
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European Union foreign-policy chief and Iran´┐Żs top nuclear negotiator have described their latest talks as constructive and agreed to meet again in three weeks to further discuss Iran´┐Żs contentious nuclear program.
"We will continue on this path," AFP quoted the EU´┐Żs Javier Solana as saying after the four-hour talks in Lisbon, Portugal, on June 23. He said he and Iranian Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani would meet again in three weeks, but did not say where.
Larijani said the talks in Portugal "helped us to make progress toward negotiations and to clarify our positions," the French new agency reported. "I think it is possible to lay the ground for negotiations," Larijani added.
Solana and Larijani´┐Żs meeting was their second in less than a month and followed talks between Larijani and International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei on June 22.
During their talks in Vienna, el-Baradei and Larijani agreed to draw up a plan on how to resolve questions about Iran´┐Żs nuclear program within two months.
The program has placed Iran at odds with the West, which fears that Iran intends to produce nuclear weapons. Iran counters that its nuclear program is intended only for civilian purposes only.
Stronger Sanctions? Solana welcomed Iran´┐Żs recent cooperation with the IAEA. "I hope very much that that cooperation between Iran and the [IAEA]...will contribute also to create a climate that will allow us to continue our contact," he said in Lisbon. "We will do the utmost to cooperate in that direction."
Larijani, for his part, said he looks forward to resolving the dispute through negotiation.
But the talks were held under the shadow of reports that United States and the United Kingdom were preparing proposals to strengthen current UN sanctions against Iran if no progress was seen.
The two countries are permanent members of the UN Security Council, which has repeatedly ordered Iran to halt its uranium-enrichment program.
Referring to the prospect of more sanctions, Larijani told reporters after his talks with Solana that they could harm the negotiation process.
"If some adventure-seeking countries want to interrupt the process of diplomacy, this may have some effects," Larijani said"I think that for the big powers the prevalence of tranquillity would be more important."
1. Bangladesh Gets IAEA Approval to Set up Nuclear Power Plant
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Bangladesh along with some other seven countries has got the much-desired approval of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to set up nuclear reactors for power generation.
Power and Energy advisor Tapan Chowdhury, made the important disclosure while talking to reporters today (Sunday), saying that the present caretaker government has initiated various moves to resolve the country´┐Żs nagging power crisis.
The Power Advisor came up with the disclosure at a time when the country has been experiencing the worst power crisis with 3,200 MW of generation against its demand for over 5,000 MW.
He, however, did not give any details of the IAEA approval nor Bangladesh´┐Żs any plan to set up the high-cost and sophisticated technology-based power plant.
Official sources said the Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission (BAEC), instructed by the government, is considering reviving an old plan to set up a nuclear power plant.
´┐ŻInitially, the proposed nuclear power plant may be of 600 MW capacity and it will be set up at Ruppur in Pabna where about 260 acres of land was acquired before the country´┐Żs independence,´┐Ż a BAEC official told reporters wishing anonymity.
Another source said a high-powered delegation will visit South Korea next month to attend a conference of the IAEA and discuss the matter with a Korean power company which offered Bangladesh to invest in nuclear power plant project.
The source also said an IAEA delegation is now in Dhaka to discuss different nuclear issues with the BAEC officials.
The other countries which got the IAEA approval for setting up nuclear reactor includes Indonesia, Malaysia, Egypt, Morocco and some small countries in central Asia.
As part of the government move to resolve the persisting power crisis, the Advisor said, a high-powered delegation will visit Myanmar to discuss the prospect of setting up a hydropower plant there and thus adding electricity to the national grid.
´┐ŻWe´┐Żre considering all kinds of possible options to resolve the power crisis,´┐Ż Tapan said after a meeting at the Power Ministry.
The meeting was convened to discuss the relevant issues on setting up hydropower plants and import of electricity from the neighbouring country.
About the move for setting up hydropower plant in Myanmer, the Power Advisor said if Bangladesh now takes any move to set up a hydropower plant in Myanmar, it will take 5 to 6 years to come into operation.
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