Hopes Rise For North Korea Nuclear Deal
Seoul (AFP) May 16, 2007
Hopes rose Wednesday that North Korea will finally start shutting down its nuclear programme after Pyongyang said that a long-running financial dispute blocking progress was close to settlement. The statement by the reclusive regime that it had started transferring 25 million dollars from a frozen account in Macau to another elsewhere was the clearest sign yet of movement to implement a February 13 disarmament deal.
"The statement by the North Korean foreign ministry expressed its will to implement the February 13 agreement in the most explicit and positive way that we have ever seen," South Korea's Unification Minister Lee Jae-Joung told a forum.
Foreign Minister Song Min-Soon said he expected the dispute "to be settled in the near future," but did not elaborate. North Korean accounts totalling 25 million dollars were frozen in a Macau bank in September 2005 at US instigation on suspicion of money laundering and counterfeiting.
However, after Washington effectively unblocked the assets, North Korea's foreign ministry late Tuesday promised to start shutting down atomic plants under UN supervision as soon as the funds are transferred.
"Work is currently under way to transfer our funds at Banco Delta Asia (BDA) in Macau to our bank accounts at a third country," said a spokesman quoted by official media.
"When the funds are transferred, we are willing to take measures for suspending the operations at the nuclear facilities right away, according to the February 13 agreement."
A delegation from the International Atomic Energy Agency would be invited immediately and "in-depth discussions with the US" about follow-up measures would begin, the spokesman said.
A six-nation disarmament deal in September 2005 failed to get off the ground because of the BDA dispute, leading to an impasse during which the North tested its first atomic weapon last October.
In February the six parties agreed a new disarmament deal but the North again insisted on a banking settlement before it would honour the pact.
"Scepticism over Pyongyang's will to carry out the February deal is spreading among some participants at the six-party talks. The (Tuesday) statement is aimed at easing the doubts," said Professor Yang Moo-Jin at Seoul's University of North Korean Studies.
But Yang told AFP North Korea had not been using the BDA issue just to play for time. "Pyongyang is not so familiar with the international financial system."
In an attempt to move the nuclear pact forward, Washington announced in March that the accounts had been unfrozen, but foreign banks were unwilling to handle cash seen as tainted.
There was no indication in Tuesday's report of how the transfer was being made or when it would be completed.
Peter Beck, Northeast Asia director of the International Crisis Group, said the North is serious about moving forward "but only at a very halting pace."
He said it had no incentive to comply in a timely manner with the accord given that South Korea is to resume bilateral rice shipments and other economic aid.
"There is a real fear Seoul will get too far out in front of the nuclear talks," Beck said.
As a first step under the February accord the North was to shut down its Yongbyon reactor -- which produces the raw material for plutonium to make weapons -- in the presence of UN inspectors in exchange for 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil.
Under the next phase it should declare and disable all its nuclear programmes in return for another 950,000 tons of fuel oil or equivalent aid.
The United States will then consider removing the North from its list of terrorist states and open talks on establishing diplomatic relations.
Source: Agence France-Presse
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Seoul (AFP) May 15, 2007
North Korea said Tuesday that work is under way to settle a banking row which has blocked international efforts to prevent it making nuclear weapons, raising hopes of progress after months of delay. A foreign ministry spokesman promised to start shutting down atomic plants under UN supervision as soon as millions of dollars in cash frozen overseas under US-inspired sanctions is successfully transferred.
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