South Korea — North Korea said it would welcome back U.N. nuclear inspectors within a day of receiving frozen funds that have been an obstacle in negotiations seeking the North's disarmament, a U.S. presidential candidate said Wednesday.
New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, speaking in Seoul after a four-day visit to the communist nation, said the North had requested an additional 30 days beyond a Saturday deadline to shut down its main nuclear reactor under a February agreement with the U.S. and other regional powers.
However, he said the U.S. insisted that was too long for the shutdown process that he believed would only take a "few days."
North Korea ejected inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency in late 2002 at the start of the latest nuclear standoff. Following years of international negotiations beset by boycotts and delays, it conducted its first nuclear weapons test in October.
The North later agreed to return to negotiations and in February pledged to shut down its main nuclear reactor in exchange for a U.S. promise to resolve a standoff over $25 million in North Korean funds frozen in a Macau bank. North Korea would also receive energy aid and political concessions for eventually dismantling its atomic programs.