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North Korea Ready To Close Reactor, But Wants Money First

China Says North Korea Ready To Shut Down Nuclear Facility
Beijing (AFP) March 20 - China said Tuesday that North Korea was ready to shut down its Yongbyon nuclear facility (pictured) and accept UN inspectors as part of the six-nation disarmament process. "We found that the DPRK is ready to shut down and seal the facility in Yongbyon and accept the monitoring and supervision of the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency)," foreign ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said. Liu did not give a specific timeframe but he referred to a six-nation accord signed on February 13 that commits North Korea to closing Yongbyon and allowing IAEA inspectors in by mid-April. "All parties are willing to take serious steps to implement their commitments in the common document of February 13," he said. Liu reported the latest round of the six-nation talks -- which involve host China, the two Koreas, the United States, Japan and Russia -- had made good progress this week. "All parties believe that reaching such an agreement marks the start of a new stage of action, and it is a good start for new progress in the six-party talks," he said. The talks began in Beijing on Monday on an optimistic note following an announcement by the US that it had reached a deal with North Korea to end a financial sanctions dispute that had held up the six-party process. The US Treasury announced that roughly 25 million dollars in North Korean funds frozen in a Macau bank due to accusations of money laundering and counterfeiting would be released, although no timeframe was given. Pyongyang had insisted it would not implement the February deal until the sanctions dispute was resolved. Chief North Korean envoy Kim Kye-Gwan reportedly told his fellow envoys at the talks on Monday that his government would proceed with the first phase of disarmament once the 25 million dollars were safely returned. Photo courtesy AFP.
by Jun Kwanwoo and Hiroshi Hiyama
Beijing (AFP) March 20, 2007
North Korea is ready to shut down its key nuclear reactor and allow UN inspectors back, China said Tuesday, despite its refusal to budge until 25 million dollars in frozen assets is returned.

Envoys for the Stalinist regime said they would not make any further moves at disarmament talks in Beijing until the money has been transferred into one of its bank accounts, according to a Japanese negotiator.

It forced the host country China to postpone Tuesday afternoon's scheduled plenary session, although the chief North Korean and US negotiators did meet bilaterally.

Reporting "good progress" at six-nation disarmament talks, China's foreign ministry earlier said the North had indicated it would abide by an accord last month under which it agreed to close its Yongbyon reactor.

"We found that North Korea is ready to shut down and seal the facility in Yongbyon and accept the monitoring and supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency," foreign ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao told reporters.

Liu did not give a specific timeframe, but referred to a February 13 deal which commits North Korea to closing Yongbyon and allowing IAEA inspectors in by mid-April in return for 50,000 tonnes of fuel aid.

Liu said the latest round of the six-nation talks -- which involve China, the two Koreas, the United States, Japan and Russia -- had made a good start during Monday's first day.

This "creates favourable conditions for more progress on the implementation of further steps in the six-party talks process," he said.

The talks had begun on an optimistic note following an announcement by the United States that it had struck a deal with North Korea to end a long-running financial sanctions dispute that had hampered progress.

Under that agreement, the US Treasury said that roughly 25 million dollars of North Korean funds could be released from a Macau bank, where they had been frozen since 2005 amid allegations of counterfeiting and money laundering.

Liu's comments were the first time since then that anyone involved in the talks has directly said the North is ready to close Yongbyon.

However, neither the United States nor Macau has given a timeframe for the release of the money, and North Korea insisted Tuesday that it would not move forward on the wider talks until the cash was back in its coffers.

"According to the chairman, China, North Korea says they will not come to the gathering until they confirm the transfer of the money," Kenichiro Sasae, Japan's top nuclear negotiator, told journalists here earlier.

"In conclusion, there was no progress today (Tuesday)."

But a South Korean diplomat involved in the Beijing talks said Christopher Hill and Kim Kye-Gwan, respectively the chief US and North Korean negotiators, met for their own bilateral talks Tuesday, and that the money was expected to be delivered very soon.

"We expect to smoothly wrap up various procedures related to the unfreezing of the frozen bank accounts," South Korean deputy negotiator Lim Sung-Nam told reporters.

"We expect to have substantive discussions... tomorrow when the six-party plenary session convenes."

Lim said he had based his remarks on comments made by the North's Kim.

Meanwhile, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe criticised North Korea for refusing to attend the plenary session.

"As long as North Koreans continue taking this kind of attitude, their situation will not change," Abe told reporters.

"Unless North Korea carries out the six-nation agreement for sure, it wouldn't achieve what it could have," he said.

"It needs to realise the country will be neither accepted by the international community nor able to change their difficult situation."

Under the February accord, North Korea would eventually receive up to one million tonnes of fuel if it permanently disables its nuclear arms programme.

earlier related report
Japan Abe Criticises North Korea For Boycotting Talks
Tokyo (AFP) March 20 - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday criticised North Korea for refusing to attend six-party talks in Beijing until millions of dollars in frozen assets is returned.

"As long as North Koreans continue taking this kind of attitude, their situation will not change," Abe told reporters.

"Unless North Korea carries out the six-nation agreement for sure, it wouldn't achieve what it could have, either," he said.

"It needs to realise the country will be neither accepted by the international community nor able to change their difficult situation."

The US Treasury had announced Monday that about 25 million dollars in North Korean funds frozen in a Macau bank could be released, although no timeframe was given.

Envoys for the Stalinist regime said they would not make any further moves at the disarmament talks until the money has been transferred into one of its bank accounts, according to a Japanese negotiator.

It forced the host country China to postpone Tuesday's scheduled session, although the chief North Korean and US negotiators did meet bilaterally.

earlier related report
North Korea Refuses To Attend Six Party Talks Meeting
Beijing (AFP) March 20 - North Korea refused to attend a session of six-party talks on dismantling its nuclear programmes Tuesday while it awaits the return of 25 million dollars in frozen assets, diplomats said.

The refusal meant negotiators at the talks in Beijing were unable to make the progress they had wanted, but a South Korean diplomat insisted the problem would soon be resolved.

"According to the chairman, China, North Korea says they will not come to the gathering until they confirm the transfer of the money," Japan's top nuclear negotiator, Kenichiro Sasae, told journalists here.

"In conclusion, there was no progress today (Tuesday)."

Chinese foreign ministry officials also confirmed that the plenary session scheduled for Tuesday afternoon had been postponed, but they refused to give the reasons.

The US Treasury had announced Monday that about 25 million dollars in North Korean funds frozen in a Macau bank could be released, although no timeframe was given.

The announcement, ending a dispute that had held up the disarmament process, added an air of optimism as envoys met Monday in Beijing for the latest round of talks.

Although North Korea welcomed the US decision, it had made clear it wanted the money safely back in its hands before going any further in the six-party process, according to a pro-Pyongyang newspaper in Japan.

"The DPRK (North Korea) insists that the issue will be fully resolved only when the release of frozen funds is confirmed," the Chosun Sinbo said on its website on Tuesday.

A South Korean official involved in the six-nation talks said the chief envoys from North Korea and the United States met bilaterally on Tuesday, and that the money was expected to be delivered very soon.

"The issue is expected to be resolved tonight at the earliest or early tomorrow morning at the latest. We expect to have substantive discussions tomorrow," the official told reporters.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he had based his remarks on comments made by chief North Korean envoy Kim Kye-Gwan.

Authorities in Macau, where the money has been frozen since 2005, said on Monday they would release the money to a North Korean bank account in Beijing, but did not say when.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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