Stalled Talks On North Korean Nuclear Disarmament Extended


Wednesday, March 21st 2007, 11:40 am
By: News On 6


BEIJING (AP) _ Stalled six-nation talks on the nuclear disarmament of North Korea are being extended for at least a day, Japan's envoy to the negotiations said Wednesday.

The negotiations were supposed to end Wednesday but have made no progress since Monday because of a dispute over $25 million in North Korean funds that were frozen in a Macau bank under pressure from the United States.

U.S. officials announced this week that the money would be transferred to the North Koreans, saying it was up to the Monetary Authority of Macau, a Chinese territory, to release the funds. The authority has refused to say when the money would be released.

Japanese envoy Kenichiro Sasae said that the issue of the North Korean money ``has not been completely settled just yet.''

``We have decided to extend the talks for one or two days for now,'' Sasae told reporters.

Russian envoy Alexander Losyukov told the ITAR-Tass news agency that the Bank of China had refused to accept the transfer because of worries about coming under U.S. financial sanctions. Telephones at the main Beijing branch of the Bank of China rang unanswered Wednesday night.

Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, the main U.S. envoy to the talks, said the Beijing had promised to resolve the problem.

``The Chinese assured us they could solve the bank account issues,'' Hill told reporters.

Under a Feb. 13 agreement, the North is to receive energy and economic assistance in return for beginning the disarmament process.

North Korea has said it would not take part in the negotiations on implementing the deal until the money was transferred.

South Korean envoy Chun Yung-woo confirmed the talks would be extended for one or two days.

He earlier said it would be difficult to hold a planned meeting of the heads of the delegations ``if North Korea insists that it cannot take part in negotiations before they confirm the transfer.''

Planned group talks were called off Tuesday. Some participants held bilateral meetings instead.

North Korea boycotted the six-nation talks for more than a year after Washington blacklisted the tiny, privately run Banco Delta Asia on suspicion the funds were connected to money-laundering or counterfeiting.

``I have no instructions from my superiors regarding when the money will be transferred,'' Wendy Au, a spokeswoman for the Macau banking authority, said Wednesday.

The two Koreas, the U.S., Japan, Russia and host China are trying to fine-tune a timetable for North Korea's disarmament under the February agreement.

North Korea would ultimately receive assistance equivalent to 1 million tons of heavy fuel oil if it fully discloses and dismantles all its nuclear programs.

The Chosun Sinbo, a pro-North Korea paper in Japan, said the North Korean ``delegation is maintaining a position that returned funds should be directly confirmed in order for the ... issue to be finally resolved.''

The negotiations have also been complicated by Pyongyang's strained ties with Tokyo.

North Korea is upset at Japan's insistence that the two nations settle issues related to Pyongyang's abduction of Japanese citizens in the 1970s and '80s before taking steps to improve relations.