The United Nations nuclear watchdog has said it has received a formal invitation from North Korea to return to the country three years after its investigators were expelled.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed on Monday that North Korea had extended an invitation to its nuclear investors to return to the reclusive Asian state three years after they were expelled for the second time.
Gill Tudor, spokeswoman for the IAEA, said her agency had received the invitation on Friday - the same day as North Korea announced it was planning to test a missile by launching a satellite into space. She added that no further details of the visit had yet been agreed.
The move appeared to be an attempt by Pyongyang to show its commitment to a nuclear moratorium deal signed with the United States last month, which was cast into doubt by revelations over the planned launch.
Under the February 29 accord, Washington agreed to supply the North with food aid in exchange for a suspension of nuclear tests, missile launches and uranium enrichment. North Korea also pledged to allow IAEA inspectors back into the country.
North Korea has been under tough UN sanctions since it conducted a second nuclear test and launched a long-range rocket in 2009
Responding to Monday's announcement, Washington said it supported all efforts by to IAEA to monitor Pyongyang's implementation of the nuclear agreement. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland reiterated concerns, however, that the satellite launch had undercut the terms of the accord.
"[The invitation] doesn't change the fact that we would consider a satellite launch a violation not only of their UN obligations but of the commitments they made to us," Nuland said.
Based in Vienna, the IAEA is tasked with attempting to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons in the world. North Korea has twice expelled the organization's experts - first in 1994 and later in April 2009 when it rejected the provisions of a 2005 aid deal, which authorized the organization's return.
North Korea has twice tested a nuclear device. It is believed to have enough fissile material to make up to a dozen nuclear bombs, however, experts doubt whether it yet has the ability to miniaturize an atomic bomb to place atop a warhead.
ccp/pfd (AP, Reuters)