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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Top UN Nuclear Inspector Set to Head to North Korea

VIENNA -- Chief UN nuclear inspector Mohamed ElBaradei expressed hope Sunday that his trip to North Korea would help nudge Pyongyang toward nuclear disarmament, but he described it as only "the first step in a long journey."

ElBaradei, head of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, did not specify whom he would meet in Pyongyang and in Beijing. China was instrumental in clinching the Feb. 13 six-nation agreement under which North Korea agreed to ultimately give up its nuclear arsenal in exchange for economic and political concessions.

An IAEA official, who asked for anonymity because details of the trip were confidential, said meetings still were not finalized.

"Important is not whom we meet but that we progress," ElBaradei told reporters less than an hour before setting out for Beijing en route to Pyongyang for a two-day visit starting Tuesday.

"I should caution that this is a first step in a long process," ElBaradei said. "This would have to be an incremental process."

Under the Feb. 13 agreement, the first phase of North Korea's disarmament process calls on the country to shut down its main nuclear reactor and allow UN inspectors back into the country within 60 days. In return, it would receive aid equal to 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil from the other countries participating in the six-party nuclear talks -- the United States, South Korea, Russia, China and Japan.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, the top U.S. negotiator, said last week that the 60-day schedule was being kept "so far."