The invitation on Friday, three years after North Korea expelled the IAEA officials, comes amid international condemnation of the impoverished communist nation's plans to launch a satellite next month.
North Korea will opens its doors to nuclear inspectors
The invitation on Friday, three years after North Korea expelled the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) officials, comes amid international condemnation of the impoverished communist nation's plans to launch a satellite next month.
US officials have said the satellite launch would breach an agreement in which Washington pledged to give 240,000 tonnes of food aid if Pyongyang halts uranium enrichment and suspends missile tests.
Japan, South Korea and Russia have also called on North Korea to abandon the proposed satellite launch and even North Korea's allies in China have expressed concern and have twice met Pyongyang officials since Friday's announcement of the proposed launch.
The US state department spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, said "there's benefit" if the IAEA gains access to North Korea, but insisted it did not make up for the satellite launch, seen as cover for a missile test.
"It doesn't change the fact that we would consider a satellite launch a violation not only of their UN obligations but of the commitments they made to us," she told journalists yesterday.
In an email IAEA spokeswoman Gill Tudor said: "Nothing has been decided yet", referring to what the inspectors' visit would consist of.
"We will discuss with [North Korea] and other parties concerned for the details of the visit," he said.
However, the North Korean nuclear negotiator, Ri Yong-ho, in comments reported by South Korean media, said the satellite launch was part of Pyongyang's "right to develop space programmes" and was not linked to the food aid agreement struck with Washington at the end of last month. He insisted North Korea would adhere to that deal.
"In order to implement the agreement, we've sent a letter of invitation to the IAEA to send inspectors to our country," he said.
In 2006 and 2009, North Korea carried out underground nuclear weapons tests just months after missile launches. Soon after the 2009 nuclear test, the UN Security Council passed a resolution banning further missile launches or nuclear tests.
While North Korea insists the satellite launch is part of a space programme, other nations are concerned it allows the country to test long-range missile technology that could be used to carry a nuclear warhead.
Beijing this week tried to dampen tensions on the peninsula by urging South Korea not to overreact over the satellite issue.
During a meeting on Sunday with Lee Kyu-hyung, the South Korean ambassador to China, the Chinese deputy foreign minister, Fu Ying, is said to have urged South Korea to remain calm, although two days later Seoul branded the planned satellite launch a "grave provocation".
The launch is set to coincide with celebrations in mid-April to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of North Korea's founder, the late Kim Il-sung. His grandson, Kim Jong-un, took over as North Korean leader following the death in December of Kim Jong-il.
According to Jin Park, international coordinator for NK Network, a South Korean-based advocacy group opposed to the North Korean regime, it is "no surprise" Pyongyang is carrying out what he described as a provocative action following the leadership change.
The new North Korean leader, analysts have said, is keen to consolidate his position and is looking to benefit from differences in how the international community reacts to what many see as provocations.
Mr Park insisted the satellite launch would put North Korea in breach of the promises it made to Washington in the recent food aid agreement. As a result he said the United States should scrap the assistance.
"I think South Korea must ... force Washington to stop the negotiations with North Korea and, most importantly, the food aid, because North Korea has consistently argued it has a shortage of food, but the missile launch costs millions of dollars. They can save the cash to buy the food, but [instead] they use the cash to launch missiles," he said.