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IS N. KOREA READY TO WIDEN ACCESS?

North Korea has indicated it is ready to give inspectors slightly wider access to its nuclear facilities, the head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency said Monday.

Hans Blix, director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said an easing of restrictions on two inspectors in North Korea reflected "a recent positive development in its bilateral talks with the United States."It was the most significant sign in months of a softening in strained relations between the U.N. agency and North Korea, which is widely suspected of hiding a program to develop nuclear weapons.

But Blix cautioned that "the situation today is not much different" regarding efforts to determine how much weapons-grade plutonium North Korea might have made.

Technical experts from the United States and North Korea have been meeting in Berlin to discuss the possibility of helping the North acquire light-water reactors to generate electricity.

Fuel for such reactors is more difficult to reprocess for weapons-grade plutonium than fuel for North Korea's current graphite-moderated reactor.

A U.S. delegation also visited North Korea for the first time over the weekend to discuss possible establishment of liaison offices in each other's capitals.

Communist North Korea has denied making nuclear weapons. But it repeatedly has balked at inspections it agreed to permit under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The North threatened to quit the IAEA last June after the governing board reprimanded Pyongyang for blocking inspections and removing fuel from its graphite-moderated reactor without giving inspectors full access. The fuel remains in a cooling tank.