IAEA consulting with U.S. about visiting North

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IAEA consulting with U.S. about visiting North

WASHINGTON - The United States has been in consultations with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on whether the agency will accept an invitation from North Korea to visit the communist state to monitor parts of its nuclear program under a deal with the U.S., the State Department said Tuesday.

The U.N. nuclear watchdog confirmed that Pyongyang invited its inspectors last week to the country under the Feb. 29 nuclear freeze-for-food deal with Washington, but the prospects for the deal have been thrown into question following the North’s Friday announcement of a planned rocket launch.

“We are obviously consulting with the IAEA on the right course of action. They haven’t made any decisions,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters.

Asked whether the IAEA will accept the invitation, Nuland replied, “You know the concerns that we have. Our concerns have to do with whether this regime is trustworthy and will keep its word now.” The U.S. is part of the decision-making process at the Vienna-based nuclear agency.

U.S. officials have warned that North Korea’s plan to launch a satellite using a long-range rocket would break the deal calling for the North to suspend its uranium enrichment and nuclear and missile tests in return for 240,000 metric tons of U.S. food aid.

North Korea announced that its Unha-3 rocket carrying the Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite will blast off from its satellite launching station in western North Korea between April 12 and 16.

The North’s tactic marked the first tension, or possible diplomatic gamble with the U.S. for more concessions, generated by its new leader Kim Jong-un, who inherited power in December following the death of his father, Kim Jong-il, analysts said.

The planned launch will mark the 100th birth anniversary of Kim Il-sung, North Korea’s founder and grandfather of current leader Kim Jong-un.

Meanwhile, a diplomatic source in Washington said North Korea had already notified the U.S. of its plan to blast off the satellite last December, before the death of Kim Jong-il.

“On Dec. 15, a North Korean official notified the U.S. of the plan to launch a satellite,” the source said on the condition of anonymity.

The reason why the North recently announced the planned rocket launch despite the February deal with the U.S. is that the plan was previously decided by Kim Jong-il when he was alive, the source said.

North Korea’s state media announced the death of Kim on Dec. 18, two days after he died of a heart attack.

Last year, Washington and Pyongyang held a series of negotiations to explore ways to resume the long-stalled six-nation talks on ending the North’s nuclear weapons program. The six-party talks, involving the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Russia and Japan, were last held in late 2008.

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