North Korea's chief nuclear envoy says UN atomic inspectors will return soon to his country as part of a food aid deal with the United States, according to a news report Tuesday.
"It (the return) will come at an early date," Vice Foreign Minister Ri Yong-Ho told journalists in New York, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported.
"Concrete measures are being constantly taken to fulfill the February agreement," Ri said in comments made Monday US time.
He was wrapping up a rare visit to the United States to attend an academic forum.
The North last month agreed to suspend nuclear and long-range missile tests and to allow the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to monitor a moratorium on uranium enrichment.
The enrichment programme, first disclosed in November 2010, could give the communist state a second way to make atomic weapons in addition to its longstanding plutonium programme.
North Korea, which has conducted two nuclear tests, kicked out IAEA inspectors in 2009 and is suspected of supplying equipment, materials and know-how in the past to Syria and Libya.
In return, the United States promised to ship 240,000 tonnes of food. US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Monday there are plans to start the shipments "as soon as possible".
The surprise February 29 deal raised hopes of eased tensions under the North's new ruler Kim Jong-Un, who succeeded his late father Kim Jong-Il.
Ri said Pyongyang was willing to move along if Washington wants to improve ties, stressing an end to "hostile" relations between the two countries would lead to resolving all pending issues.
But he painted a gloomy picture for inter-Korean relations, accusing South Korea of backtracking on summit agreements reached in 2000 and 2007.
"We are willing to go hand in hand should the South respect the declarations and implement them. But the South does not seem to be willing to do so yet," he was quoted as saying.
The North has taken a consistently hostile tone with the South during the leadership transition period, reviling its President Lee Myung-Bak as a "rat" and a "traitor" and vowing to "wipe out" his administration.