The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will resume inspections in North Korea following Pyongyang's announcement that it will curb its nuclear activities, its chief Mohamed ElBaradei has announced.
The head of the Vienna-based nuclear watchdog described the North Korean move as "a step on the right direction" after Pyongyang agreed to shut down key nuclear facilities within two months in exchange for badly needed fuel.
"The IAEA will go back to North Korea to ensure that all nuclear activities are for peaceful purposes," ElBaradei told a press conference on Tuesday, in Luxembourg with the country's foreign minister Jean Asselborn.
"It is good news, it is the start of the process," the Nobel peace prize winner added.
North Korea expelled IAEA inspectors four years ago after being accused by Washington of seeking to develop a nuclear bomb. Pyongyang then withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
The IAEA's 35-nation board of governors must authorise the agency returning to North Korea and is expected to do so when it meets in Vienna in a regularly scheduled session starting March 5, diplomats in Vienna said.
A Western diplomat close to the IAEA said the agency has "contingency plans" for an inspection mission to North Korea.
"There's been a lot of planning and preparation and equipment is assembled," the diplomat said.
Another diplomat said that once it gets a "formal request, with clarity of mission, a team could go at short notice.