N. Korea, U.S. resolve dispute over frozen funds

Agreement clears the way for nuclear arms talks

March 19, 2007|By New York Times News Service

BEIJING -- The United States and North Korea have resolved a standoff over North Korean funds frozen in a bank account in Macao, clearing the way for talks to focus on putting in place a nuclear disarmament accord, Chinese and American officials said yesterday.

Christopher R. Hill, an assistant secretary of state who is the chief American envoy at the talks, said he met with representatives from the North Korean delegation over the weekend to explain the American position on $25 million in North Korea-related accounts in Macao's Banco Delta Asia. An 18-month investigation into the bank ended last week, putting responsibility for returning the funds to North Korea in the hands of the authorities in Macao. But funds connected to illegal activities, such as money laundering, counterfeiting, and narcotics and weapons trafficking, are not supposed to be returned.

North Korean officials have said several times in recent days that they will not move forward with their commitment to shut down the nation's nuclear plant at Yongbyon by the middle of next month unless they recover the $25 million. North Korean officials have sent mixed signals about whether the Treasury Department action giving Macao responsibility for returning the funds satisfies their demands to end the dispute. Senior officials in North Korea have not yet indicated that they consider the Macao matter to be resolved.

But the issue "will not be an impediment to our six-party talks," Hill told reporters. The North Korean officials "made it very clear that they have begun their tasks for the purpose of denuclearization."

State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan of China told a group of visiting Japanese lawmakers yesterday that the United States and North Korea had resolved the dispute, Hidenao Nakagawa, secretary general of Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party, told reporters.

The United States, North Korea, China, Japan, South Korea and Russia reached an initial agreement Feb. 13 that gave North Korea 60 days to shut its facility for producing plutonium for nuclear weapons at Yongbyon in return for aid and security pledges.

Representatives of the six nations will convene here today to hammer out details of that agreement and establish working groups to discuss a variety of other diplomatic and security concerns.

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