( AFP ) - The head of a UN atomic inspection team said here Monday he would press North Korea to close its nuclear reactor, as Pyongyang finally got the money it had demanded before starting to disarm.
Olli Heinonen will lead a four-person team from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) into Pyongyang on Tuesday to begin arranging the closure of the Yongbyon reactor that is at the core of the North's nuclear programme.
"We have to make sure that the reactor should be shut down at Yongbyon," Heinonen, the IAEA deputy director general in charge of nuclear safeguards, told reporters after arriving in Beijing, from where he will fly to Pyongyang.
"The facility should be shut down and sealed. So this is the next step on this long trip."
The IAEA mission will be the first since North Korea kicked out UN nuclear inspectors in 2002, and coincides with the resolution of a months-long dispute that has blocked disarmament progress.
North Korean funds at the heart of the row were transferred on Monday to North Korea's Foreign Trade bank, the Russian bank in Moscow which acted as an intermediary said.
"So as of now the problem of the funds transferral is fully resolved," Dalcombank said in a statement published on its website.
"Dalcombank voices hope that this operation will contribute to the fastest possible resolution of the problem of North Korea's nuclear disarmament, help dispel tensions on the Korean peninsula and strengthen North Korea's cooperation with the international community."
The funds, believed to total between 20 and 25 million dollars, were frozen by the United States at the Banco Delta Asia in the Chinese territory of Macau in 2005 on suspicion of money laundering and counterfeiting.
North Korea had refused to comply with a deal struck in February with China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States to shut down its nuclear reactor -- as a first step towards disarming -- until it received the money.
The United States agreed in March to give the money back but could not get it quickly transferred to North Korea due to a myriad of complications, until Russia finally stepped in to unblock the funds.
The IAEA's scheduled five-day mission to North Korea follows a landmark visit to Pyongyang last week by chief US nuclear envoy Christopher Hill, who became the most senior US official to visit the capital in nearly five years.
Hill said after his visit that he expected the reactor to be shut within three weeks and that foreign ministers from the six nations involved in the disarmament process were to meet in July to discuss the next steps.
Under the February six-nation deal, North Korea must "shut down and seal" the Yongbyon facility before eventually abandoning it, and invite the UN inspectors to monitor and verify the process.
North Korea, which tested an atom bomb in October last year, agreed in the February accord to eventually completely disable its nuclear programmes in exchange for major aid and diplomatic benefits.
These incentives included one million tonnes of heavy fuel oil or equivalent energy aid, as well as a possible normalisation of relations with Washington.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Sunday gave an optimistic assessment of North Korea's intentions.
"I would say that there are positive signals coming from the North Koreans about their intention to carry forward on their obligations. We will see," she told reporters.
Rice praised the "good job" done by Hill, while the North also welcomed his trip.
"The discussions were comprehensive and productive," a North Korean foreign ministry spokesman was quoted as saying on Sunday by the government's official Korean Central News Agency.