20 Mar 2012

North Korea invites UN nuclear inspectors in

6:31 pm on 20 March 2012

North Korea's chief nuclear negotiator, Ri Yong-ho, has confirmed that United Nations nuclear inspectors have been invited to the country for the first time in three years.

Mr Ri says the aim of the move is to implement a deal with the US.

The invitation comes less than three weeks after North Korea agreed to suspend nuclear and long-range missile tests, and to admit UN nuclear inspectors in return for food aid.

But that pledge to co-operate with the international community was thrown into doubt last week, when Pyongyang announced plans to launch what it called a rocket-mounted satellite.

The North said the launch - between 12 and 16 April - would mark the 100th birthday of its late "Great Leader" Kim Il-sung.

Any launch would be seen as violating UN Security Council resolutions, and the United States described the plans as "highly provocative".

The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) - the UN's nuclear watchdog - says it will now discuss the possible visit with Pyongyang and "other parties concerned".

The BBC's correspondent in Vienna says it is unclear how much scope for inspections the agency would be given: in the past, North Korea has limited access to key sites.

Pyongyang expelled IAEA inspectors 10 years ago after a deal with the US unravelled. They were allowed back several years later - but were thrown out again in 2009.