( Reuters ) - A team of U.N. nuclear watchdog officials visiting North Korea headed on Thursday for the Yongbyon nuclear plant that Pyongyang has promised to mothball under an aid-for-disarmament deal, Kyodo news agency reported.
The visit to the reactor is the first by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) officials since Pyongyang expelled the Vienna-based agency's inspectors in December 2002.
The secretive communist state subsequently walked out of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, announced in 2005 that it had atomic bombs, and last year conducted its first nuclear test.
"This is not an inspection. We are here to negotiate and we will see where we are on Friday evening -- what we have on the table at that time," IAEA nuclear safequards director Olli Heinonen was quoted as saying as he left a Pyongyang hotel for the facility.
A diplomat close to the IAEA said on Wednesday that if its team, led by nuclear safeguards director Olli Heinonen, finalized terms for an inspector mission, the agency's 35-nation board of governors would hold a one-day special meeting -- probably on July 9 -- to ratify the deal.
Inspectors would then be deployed immediately to North Korea.
North Korea's nuclear program, which dates back to at least the 1980s, is centered at Yongbyon, about 100 km ( 60 miles) north of Pyongyang.
The complex consists of a five-megawatt reactor and a plutonium reprocessing plant, where weapons-grade material can be extracted from spent fuel rods.
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki declined comment on White House remarks suggesting North Korea had recently test-fired ballistic missiles, but urged Pyongyang to refrain from actions that would increase tensions in the region.