U.N. nuclear chief arrives in N. Korea

( AP ) - The chief U.N. nuclear inspector expressed hope for progress in relations with North Korea as he arrived Tuesday in Pyongyang for talks on implementing a landmark nuclear disarmament agreement.

"We hope we can make progress in our relationship," Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency said after arriving in the North, AP Television News reported. "I hope the outcome will be positive."

In 2002, the North kicked out IAEA inspectors after U.S. officials accused the country of running a secret uranium enrichment program, a charge denied by the North.

Under the Feb. 13 agreement, the North is to ultimately give up its nuclear arsenal in exchange for economic aid and political concessions.

Meanwhile, former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung urged North Korea not to miss the opportunity to receive aid and other concessions for ending its nuclear weapons program. Kim said if the North goes back on its promises that it could face strong collective sanctions from the U.S. and its four regional partners - South Korea, China, Russia and Japan.

" North Korea also has a reason to seize the opportunity to achieve success in the six-party talks," Kim said at a meeting of international journalists in Seoul. He said " North Korea's survival could be threatened" if it faced tough sanctions.

Kim, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his engagement policy toward the North, also asked the U.S. to give North Korea what it wants and embrace the isolated country as part of international society.

The U.S. has agreed to resolve a dispute over its financial restrictions on a Macau bank that was accused of complicity in counterfeiting $100 bills and money-laundering by North Korea. The U.S. move led Macau authorities to freeze about $24 million in North Korean assets.

Kim's comments come as officials from the U.S. and the North prepared to meet their counterparts from South Korea, China, Russia and Japan this week in Beijing to start working group talks aimed at putting the Feb. 13 agreement into effect.

In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said China would head the group on the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, while South Korea would lead the economic and energy cooperation group and Russia would take charge of the group on peace and security in Northeast Asia.

A session on economic and energy cooperation will be held Thursday at the South Korean Embassy in Beijing, the South's Foreign Ministry said.

The North held separate working group meetings with the U.S. and Japan on normalizing diplomatic ties last week.

Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, the main American nuclear envoy, was scheduled to arrive Wednesday in Beijing for the working groups and will stay at least a week, said Susan Stevenson, a U.S. Embassy spokeswoman in Beijing.

Hill is likely to meet Elbaradei, who is expected to return Wednesday to Beijing, though no official meeting has been set, according to the embassy.

The working group sessions will be followed by a full session of the six-nation North Korea nuclear talks set to convene Monday.

North Korea, meanwhile, criticized the U.N. on Tuesday for suspending its development program in the country.

A Foreign Ministry statement carried by the North's official Korean Central News Agency said the decision by the U.N. Development Program to halt its North Korea program was discriminatory.

The U.N. Development Program suspended its North Korea program last week because the country failed to meet certain conditions set by its board after the United States alleged that millions of dollars in U.N. aid money was being diverted to Kim Jong Il's regime. In response to the allegations, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon ordered an external audit of all U.N. operations in North Korea. The audit began Monday.

The UNDP said seven of its nine international staff members in North Korea will leave the country by this weekend following the decision. It said it would leave two foreign staff members in North Korea to help facilitate the audit.

The UNDP's mission is to help developing nations shape economic development and good governance policies. The agency does not provide humanitarian assistance.

The suspension is the first in memory for the U.N. agency and affects 20 projects with a budget of $4.4 million, including those helping the North deal with food security, biodiversity and economic management, said David Morrison, the agency's chief spokesman.

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