Seoul (AFP) June 01, 2007
North Korea has rejected a US suggestion that it start shutting down its nuclear programme before a long-running banking dispute is settled, saying the cash row must be resolved beforehand. "Our position has been clear from the beginning," Kim Myong-Gil, deputy chief of the North Korean mission to the United Nations, told South Korea's Yonhap news agency by phone Thursday. "The issue of BDA (Banco Delta Asia) has to be solved first."
The chief US nuclear envoy Christopher Hill, during a visit to Beijing Thursday, urged the North to start closing its reactor even before the cash row is settled.
Hill said the United States and China were working hard to resolve the impasse and the North Koreans should be able to trust Washington.
Under a six-nation February accord, North Korea agreed to close its Yongbyon reactor by mid-April as the first step in a nuclear disarmament programme.
But it has refused to act until it recovers the roughly 25 million dollars in North Korean accounts that were frozen in BDA in 2005 at US instigation, on suspicion of illegality.
Washington has since released the funds but North Korea is having difficulty finding a foreign bank to transfer the money amid concerns it has been tainted by the US accusations.
Kim said his government wanted a prompt resolution of the funds transfer, Yonhap reported early Friday.
"I know that the US side is making efforts," he said.
earlier related report
After four days of high-level talks, the two sides issued a four-sentence statement that set no date for the next ministerial meeting.
The South's Unification Ministry had said earlier in the day that no joint statement would be issued and described the mood as "not good."
The two sides said only that they "have sufficiently presented their positions and held sincere discussions on fundamental and actual matters linked to progress in inter-Korean relations."
They agreed "to continue to further examine ways to boost reconciliation and cooperation between the two Koreas and peace on the Korean peninsula."
The South has refused to make its first shipment of much-needed rice aid until the North begins honouring a six-nation nuclear disarmament deal reached in February.
The communist state says that the two issues are unrelated and that "foreign powers" -- a reference to the United States -- are interfering with the rice deal.
"Rice was the most difficult issue," the South's chief delegate, Unification Minister Lee Jae-Joung, told reporters, adding there were "frank discussions" on the topic.
Delegation spokesman Ko Gyoung-Bin said the North Koreans were told it would be impossible to win public support for the rice deal if implementation of the nuclear agreement is delayed further.
Hankook newspaper said the North Koreans on Thursday had threatened to halt a reunion programme for separated families unless the South delivered its aid.
"The North Korea side made no remarks on any specific event," Ko said.
The ministerial talks are the highest-level regular contacts between two nations still technically at war following their 1950-53 conflict. But efforts to ease tensions and promote joint economic projects have fallen foul of the continuing nuclear impasse.
At this week's talks, South Korea reiterated appeals to the North to shut down its Yongbyon reactor, the first step in the February deal. It produces the raw material for bomb-making plutonium.
The North refuses to budge until it receives 25 million dollars which had been frozen since 2005 in Macau's Banco Delta Asia (BDA) under US-inspired sanctions.
Washington said the accounts were unfrozen in March but the North has had problems finding a foreign bank to handle the transfer of cash deemed to be tainted. Peter Beck, Northeast Asia director of the International Crisis Group, told AFP the US Treasury is understood to be unwilling to issue a legal waiver to any bank which makes the transfer.
Pyongyang has rejected a suggestion by chief US nuclear negotiator Christopher Hill that it start shutting down Yongbyon before the long-running banking dispute is settled.
"The issue of BDA has to be solved first," Kim Myong-Gil, deputy chief of the North Korean mission to the United Nations, told Yonhap news agency by phone Thursday.
Inter-Korean relations soured last year with the North's missile launches and nuclear test, but improved after the February nuclear deal.
At the last ministerial round in March the South agreed in principle to resume annual rice and fertiliser aid. But it delayed the first shipment of rice, out of an annual total of 400,000 tons, pending progress on disarmament.
Seoul's "sunshine" engagement policy with the North has been criticised in the past for giving too much in return for too few concessions. Its apparent toughness this time surprised some analysts.
"Seoul has discovered some backbone in dealing with the North," said Beck.
But he added it was unfortunate that the bone of contention was humanitarian aid when the focus should be on cash transfers to the North through joint projects.
Source: Agence France-Presse
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Nuclear Aid Issues Overshadow Korean Talks
Seoul (AFP) May 31, 2007
High-level inter-Korean reconciliation talks soured Thursday when the North protested at the South's delay in delivering its promised rice aid. The four-day ministerial talks are aimed at discussing joint projects to ease tensions. But they hit a snag over Seoul's insistence in withholding aid until Pyongyang starts shutting down its nuclear programme.
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