Washington (AFP) June 25, 2007
Nuclear-armed North Korea has agreed to come clean with its controversial highly enriched uranium program that had triggered the nearly five-year atomic standoff with Washington, US envoy Christopher Hill said Monday after a surprise visit to Pyongyang. "We had a very good discussion about it, I am not going into the specifics of it except to say that they acknowleged that this issue must be resolved to mutual satisfaction," Hill told reporters in Washington.
He stressed that the United States would not accept any final nuclear deal with North Korea unless the uranium enrichment issue was resolved.
Enriched uranium is used as fuel for nuclear reactors, but highly enriched uranium can be used to make nuclear bombs.
Hill's North Korea visit was the first by a top US official since October 2002, when his predecessor James Kelly confronted the North with alleged evidence of a secret nuclear program using highly enriched uranium.
That accusation based on intelligence information triggered off the latest nuclear crisis and the collapse of a 1994 bilateral accord to freeze Pyongyang's nuclear weapons drive.
At first, the North acknowledged the program but has since denied it.
Hill said the highly enriched uranium program was critical to the declaration by North Korea of its nuclear activities under the second phase of a February 13 accord reached during six-party talks among the United States, China, Russia, the two Koreas and Japan.
"I wasn't there to negotiate HEU...but I was there to make very clear to them that as we go forward, we are going to have to resolve that issue," Hill told a media briefing about his visit.
"What I feel is important for us to do is to make clear we are not reaching any deal unless this is resolved. We have to get clarity on this," he said.
During his two-day visit, Hill met with North Korea's Foreign Minister Pak Ui-Chun and Kim Kye-Gwan, its chief envoy to the six-nation forum that drew up the February 13 accord.
His North Korean trip followed an invitation by Pyongyang to the global atomic watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), to oversee the shutdown of the reclusive Stalinist state's key nuclear reactor under the first phase of the February pact.
Under that agreement, hammered out after a surge in tensions following the North's first nuclear weapons test last year, Pyongyang promised to shut down the Yongbyon plutonium plant in return for energy aid and diplomatic concessions.
The invitation for Hill's visit came after the settlement of a longstanding dispute about North Korean funds frozen in a Macau bank under US-instigated sanctions.
Pyongyang had refused to comply with the denuclearization pact until it received more than 20 million dollars frozen at the bank and in a complex deal, the money was returned this week through US and Russian banking transactions.
IAEA inspectors are to to fly to Pyongyang Tuesday to discuss with North Korea the shutdown and sealing of the Yongbyon atomic reactor.
"On June 25, the said funds were put on the account of North Korea's Foreign Trade Bank. So as of now the problem of the funds transferral is fully resolved," the Dalcombank said in a statement published on its official website.
"Dalcombank voices hope that this operation will contribute to the fastest possible resolution of the problem of North Korea's nuclear disarmament, help dispel tensions on the Korean peninsula and strengthen North Korea's cooperation with the international community," the bank said.
The funds, believed to total between 20 and 25 million dollars, were frozen by the United States at the Banco Delta Asia in the Chinese territory of Macau in 2005 on suspicion of money-laundering and counterfeiting.
"The operation was preceded by high-level negotiations which included Russia's foreign ministry, finance ministry and Bank of Russia, as well as an exchange of notes with the US embassy in Moscow which detailed the US government's obligation not to take any legal steps against any of the Russian sides" participating in the transfer, the statement read.
"Once these documents were received, Dalcombank took all necessary steps to ensure that the transaction be complete as soon as possible," the bank said.
Russia offered to unblock the funds as part of international diplomatic efforts to encourage North Korea to shut down its nuclear reactor and allow a visit by UN nuclear inspectors.
North Korea had refused to comply with an agreement struck in February with China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States to shut down its nuclear reactor until it received the money.
Source: Agence France-Presse
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North Korea Prepared To Shut Reactor As Bush Searches For Foreign Policy Success
Seoul (AFP) Jun 24, 2007
US envoy Christopher Hill said Friday he had "useful and positive" talks on a rare visit to North Korea and the regime was prepared to shut down the reactor at the heart of its nuclear programme. Hill -- the most senior US official to visit the communist state in nearly five years -- said they had agreed on the need to swiftly implement a February agreement on disarmament.
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