msnbc.com news services
updated 2/23/2007 11:33:22 AM ET 2007-02-23T16:33:22

The head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog, Mohamed ElBaradei, said on Friday he would visit North Korea after receiving an invitation from the government there to discuss the freeze of North Korean nuclear facilities.

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ElBaradei said he and North Korean authorities would discuss how to “implement the freeze of (nuclear) facilities” and “eventual dismantlement of these facilities.”

“According to the letter, they would like to improve and normalize the relationship with the agency and hope to go back to being a member of the agency,” ElBaradei told reporters in Vienna after meeting U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

“The first (issue) of course is how to develop a plan to freeze the Yongbyon facilities, and more importantly to make sure that they come back as a fully-fledged member of the agency,” ElBaradei said.

ElBaradei said he had received an invitation from Pyongyang on Friday, after a deal was struck last week to shut down the country’s nuclear complex in Yongbyon and allow U.N. inspectors to supervise the dismantlement.

A spokeswoman for the IAEA added that ElBaradei planned to go after an IAEA board meeting in March.

North Korea agreed on Feb. 13 to take steps towards nuclear disarmament in exchange for $300 million in aid under a deal President Bush hailed as the best chance to get it to scrap its atomic weapons program.

The landmark agreement, reached four months after Pyongyang stunned the world with its first nuclear test, requires the secretive communist state to shut down the reactor at the heart of its nuclear ambitions and allow international inspections.

The accord also calls for concessions by the United States towards economically impoverished North Korea which Bush once lumped together with Iran and Iraq as an “axis of evil”.

A top South Korean nuclear envoy said earlier on Friday North Korea appeared ready to abandon the source of its weapons-grade plutonium but there was a still a long way to go before Pyongyang scraps its entire nuclear arms program.

Chun Yung-woo, Seoul’s chief envoy to six-way talks, said under the deal reached in Beijing, the faster and farther North Korea went toward shutting down its sole operating nuclear reactor and reprocessing facilities, the more aid the impoverished state would receive.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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