June 4, 2018 / 3:16 PM / 16 days ago

U.N. watchdog confident of North Korea role if nuclear deal is struck

VIENNA(Reuters) - The U.N. atomic watchdog is confident that it is best placed to verify any nuclear deal reached with North Korea and would be able to deploy quickly, the head of the agency said on Monday.

The flag of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) flies in front of their headquarters during the General Conference in Vienna, Austria September 18, 2017. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

U.S. President Donald Trump plans to hold a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore on June 12 in a bid to eliminate Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programme.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is best-known for its work in Iran, where it is policing the restrictions placed on the country’s nuclear activities under the 2015 deal with major powers that Trump pulled out of last month. IAEA inspectors were expelled from North Korea in 2009.

“No one said, ‘If we reach agreement, please do the verification job’. That’s not like that,” IAEA chief Yukiya Amano told a news conference when asked if either side involved in the summit had indicated that his agency would be called on.

“However, we have liaised with stakeholders and had a number of exchanges and through these exchanges it is very clear that if there is anybody, any organisation that can do the verification, it is us, the IAEA,” he said.

Since no deal has been struck yet it is too early to say how big the IAEA’s job would be or what resources it would require, according to Amano.

The IAEA deals with verifying that nuclear activities are for peaceful purposes, rather than with disarmament. But the task in North Korea would still be large. Although much remains unknown about the country’s activities, they are advanced - unlike Iran it has built and tested nuclear weapons.

Inspectors should, however, be able to deploy there quickly once the IAEA’s 35-nation Board of Governors formally gave the agency the nod, Amano said.

“We will be able to resume our activities at short notice, within weeks, not months, once board authorisation is given.”

Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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