'North Korea agrees to return of UN nuclear inspectors'
Seoul: North Korea has agreed with US troubleshooter Bill Richardson to permit the return of UN nuclear inspectors as part of a package of measures to ease tensions on the peninsula, CNN reported on Monday.
CNN correspondent Wolf Blitzer, who is travelling with Richardson in Pyongyang, said the North Koreans had agreed to let inspectors from the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency go back to its Yongbyon nuclear facility.
They had also agreed to allow fuel rods for the enrichment of uranium to be shipped to an outside country, and to the creation of a military commission and hotline between the two Koreas and the United States, Blitzer said.
A veteran negotiator with the reclusive communist state, New Mexico Governor Richardson was due to brief reporters in Beijing later on Monday after concluding his five-day visit to Pyongyang.
The former US ambassador to the UN was said by Blitzer to be "disappointed" at the UN Security Council's failure late Sunday to agree a statement on the Korean situation.
Richardson believed that such a statement would have given the South Koreans "political cover" to cancel a planned live-fire military exercise on a flashpoint border island bombarded by North Korea last month, Blitzer said.
North Korea in April 2009 pulled out of six-nation nuclear disarmament talks and ordered US and IAEA nuclear inspectors out of the country, after the UN Security Council condemned Pyongyang for an April 05 rocket launch.
It staged its second nuclear test a month later.
Tensions have soared anew since last month's North Korean artillery attack on the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong, which killed four people including civilians and damaged dozens of homes.
The South's forces have begun the live-fire drill on Yeonpyeong today, despite North Korean threats of deadly retaliation. But heavy fog had caused the drill to be delayed, South Korean officials said.
Richardson had urged top North Korean leaders to show "maximum restraint" over the planned South Korean drills.
In Pyongyang over the weekend, Richardson met top nuclear negotiator Kim Kye-Gwan and Major General Pak Rim-Su, who leads North Korean forces along the tense border with the South.
Pak told Richardson that North Korea had recovered the remains of several hundred US servicemen killed during the 1950-1953 Korean War and offered to help secure their return to the United States, CNN said.