Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency entered North Korea on Tuesday for the first time in seven months, ending a tense standoff over the Communist government's refusal to provide even minimal access to the sites where the United States thinks nuclear weapons are under development.
The arrival of the six inspectors and a technician follows months of brinkmanship by North Korea, which has impeded past inspections, delayed scheduling new ones and refused to grant visas to the agency.
But the North relented last week after it became clear that the Atomic Energy Agency, an arm of the United Nations, was prepared to go to the Security Council to seek international sanctions against North Korea unless it cooperated.
American officials are being careful not to describe the inspections as a major breakthrough. At most, the inspectors will be able to certify that no plutonium has been diverted to nuclear weapons projects in recent months.
A year ago, North Korea's president, Kim Il Sung, abruptly ended the agency's access to the sites and threatened to pull out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty rather than submit to the agency's demand for a "special inspection" of two additional sites.
The issue of access to those sites is no closer to resolution.
The dumps are not included in the list of seven locations the inspectors will be allowed to visit over the next two weeks.