U.S Delegation To Pyongyang Says North Korea To Allow U.N. Inspections

Monday, April 9th 2007, 7:26 am

By: News On 6

PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) _ United Nations inspectors will be allowed back into North Korea once the country's $25 million in funds frozen in a Macau bank are released, the top nuclear negotiator told a visiting American delegation Monday.

North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan also said, however, that it could be difficult for Pyongyang to meet a Saturday deadline for shutting down its main nuclear reactor in accord with a landmark February agreement.

The impoverished North has refused to move forward with that agreement due to the delayed transfer of the funds, which were frozen by Macau authorities after the U.S. blacklisted privately run Banco Delta Asia in 2005 for allegedly helping Pyongyang launder money.

On Monday, Kim met with Bill Richardson, a Democratic presidential candidate, and Anthony Principi, President Bush's former veteran affairs secretary, who were visiting Pyongyang.

Kim ``indicated that the North Korean government would invite the ... inspectors back the moment the funds are released to the North Korean government,'' Principi told reporters after the meeting.

Kim also told the delegation of the difficulty of shutting down the regime's main nuclear reactor by a Saturday deadline called for in the February nuclear disarmament accord, he said.

``They can make a beginning, but whether they can completely shut down a nuclear reactor in such a short time would be very difficult,'' Principi said.

Christopher Hill, the top U.S. nuclear envoy, in Tokyo for talks with his Japanese counterpart, said Monday that the U.S. would still push Pyongyang to fully meet its obligations under the agreement.

``There's no such thing as partial implementation,'' Hill said.

But, he acknowledged that the ``timeline is becoming difficult'' in getting the North Koreans to meet the deadline.

The U.S. delegation, which also includes Victor Cha, Bush's top adviser on North Korea, is on a four-day trip to Pyongyang to recover remains of American servicemen killed in the Korean War. Richardson, governor of New Mexico and a former ambassador to the U.N., said Sunday he had no intention of negotiating nuclear matters.

A North Korean general said Monday that the remains of six U.S. servicemen would be handed over to the American envoys. Richardson called it a noble humanitarian gesture that would bring comfort to American families.

There has been little progress in implementing the Feb. 13 nuclear agreement in which North Korea promised to take initial steps toward dismantling its nuclear program, including closing its main nuclear reactor and providing a full list of its nuclear facilities.

Last week, the State Department said that a hitch stalling the release of the funds had been resolved, potentially clearing the way for the disbursement of the money. No details were released on when or how the money would be transferred.

Macau government spokeswoman Elena Au said Monday that she had no immediate comment. Calls to Macau's monetary authority and Banco Delta Asia went unanswered.

Richardson said his delegation pushed Kim for a show of good faith that North Korea was ready to move forward in it obligations under the Feb. 13 deal. He said the U.S. side asked for a meeting of the six nations involved in nuclear disarmament talks before Saturday, when Pyongyang is supposed to shut down its nuclear reactor and let in U.N. nuclear inspectors.

``Our negotiators are ready to meet with the North Koreans immediately so that this effort to dismantle their nuclear weapons is concluded,'' Richardson said.

He said he was hoping to travel to Yongbyon, 55 miles north of Pyongyang, to inspect the reactor, but there were a lot of ``political issues involved.'' He did not elaborate.

Reporters were allowed to view the first minutes of the meeting. Kim said that the visit was the first one that included both Democratic and Republican American officials since Bush took office.

``In light of current international relations and DPRK-US relations, your current visit to our country is of very great significance,'' Kim said through an interpreter.

Richardson has regularly made diplomatic trips, often on his own initiative, to a number of global hot spots. Though visits to North Korea by senior U.S. officials are rare, this was Richardson's sixth.

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