Washington (AFP) March 22, 2007
The United States Thursday urged North Korea to honor pledges to scrap its nuclear weapons program, despite a breakdown in talks to end the program, blaming a "technical issue" for the collapse.
"We expect them to live up to their commitments but, at this point, this is not an issue of American unwillingness. It's a technical issue in terms of fund transferring," said White House spokesman Tony Snow.
He was referring to demands for the return of 25 million dollars of North Korean assets, which have been frozen in a Macau bank since 2005 over US accusations of money laundering and counterfeiting. Pyongyang's envoy to the nuclear negiotiations has refused to talk until the money is transferred.
The issue has delayed efforts to implement a multinational deal struck in February, under which the North would shut down its nuclear programs and admit United Nations nuclear watchdog inspectors in exchange for economic and diplomatic benefits.
The United States said it had struck a deal to release all the assets frozen in the bank, Banco Delta Asia.
"In other words, we've done our part. So at this point it's a technical issue," said Snow.
The money was not sent from Macau to a North Korean account in Beijing as expected, leaving the envoys frustrated. The talks then ended without agreement on Thursday after four days of deadlock, with no date set for their resumption.
A statement released by host nation China on Thursday said the six nations involved in talks on the nuclear issue remained committed to implementing the February accord.
Under this deal, North Korea would shut its Yongbyon reactor within 60 days of that agreement in return for 50,000 tonnes of fuel aid.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said on Thursday that the six nations -- the two Koreas, China, the United States, Japan and Russia -- would likely meet again soon.
"They will probably get together again in the next week or two as we get closer to the 60 days clock ... at the envoy level," he said.
"The North Koreans continued to reaffirm their commitment to meet the February goals" during earlier talks of representatives of the six in Beijing, including the US top envoy Christopher Hill, McCormack said.
"All the parties are optimistic about the process and being able to meet the 60 days clock," he added.
Hill said on Thursday morning that the money transfer should not have been a reason to hold up the talks. "This was a procedural, form-filling issue," he said.
earlier related report
The talks, hosted by China and also involving the two Koreas, the United States, Japan and Russia, were designed to put flesh on a landmark February 13 accord under which Pyongyang agreed to abandon its nuclear weapons programmes in return for vital fuel aid and diplomatic concessions. - Monday, March 19:
As nuclear envoys meet in Beijing, US officials say the United States and North Korea have reached an agreement over the return of 25 million dollars of Pyongyang assets frozen in a Macau bank since 2005 amid US charges of money laundering and counterfeiting. The money can now be released, they say.
- It lends an optimistic atmosphere to the start of proceedings. US envoy Christopher Hill says the matter has been "resolved" and North Korea's envoy, Kim Kye-Gwan, reportedly tells the talks that Pyongyang will close its main Yongbyon reactor as soon as the money is back in its coffers. - Tuesday, March 20:
First signs of a hitch emerge with North Korea accusing Japan of trying to sabotage the talks. China reports "good progress" after the first day and says Pyongyang is ready to shut down Yongbyon and accept UN inspectors.
- The North's Kim refuses to attend an afternoon session of talks until the cash from Macau is transferred, meaning no progress can be made, although he holds bilateral talks with Hill. - Wednesday, March 21:
More frustration as the North continues to refuse talks while it waits for the money to arrive. With envoys hanging around, a frustrated Hill hits out. "We all have jobs to do. Waiting around for some forms to be filled out is not usually in our job descriptions."
- Hill says it is unclear when the talks can resume and is pessimistic on the chances of making progress on denuclearisation. The talks, which had been due to wrap up, are extended for a further day to Thursday. - Thursday, March 22:
Break-up. After another fruitless morning, the North's envoy Kim Kye-Gwan boards an Air Koryo flight back to Pyongyang. China is obliged to suspend the talks and no new date is set for a resumption. China insists all sides remain committed to the February 13 accord while Hill says he believes the North will still shut Yongbyon by an agreed deadline of mid-April.
- The Bank of China says it has not been asked to get involved in the cash transfer, explaining why the 25 million dollars is still in limbo. China's top nuclear envoy says the bank has "concerns" over the deal as well as practical problems hindering the transaction.
earlier related report
After North Korea's chief envoy Kim Kye-Gwan abruptly abandoned the talks and flew home on Thursday afternoon, China announced that the latest round of negotiations had been suspended with no date set for their resumption.
It followed an increasingly frustrating wait for the return of 25 million dollars of North Korean assets that had been frozen in a Macau bank since 2005, with Pyongyang's envoy refusing to talk until the money was safely transferred.
Nevertheless, host China and the chief US envoy insisted the tortuous process remained on track and they expected the Stalinist regime to abide by an agreement to shut down its key Yongbyon nuclear reactor by mid-April.
"The parties agreed to recess and will resume the talks at the earliest opportunity to continue to discuss and formulate an action plan," a statement released by China said.
The statement said the six nations remained committed to implementing the February 13 accord under which North Korea would shut its Yongbyon reactor within 60 days of that agreement in return for 50,000 tonnes of fuel aid.
Chief US envoy Christopher Hill also told reporters that he expected North Korea to close Yongybyon within the 60-day timeframe.
"The six-party process continues to be on track," Hill said. "It is our strong view that we are on schedule to meet the 60-day requirement."
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe criticised Pyongyang for walking out of the talks which had been expected to flesh out the accord and discuss a longer-term roadmap for disarmament.
"North Korea would gain nothing from taking this kind of attitude," Abe told reporters in Tokyo.
"North Korea can change its current surroundings only when it takes concrete actions to abandon its nuclear weapons programme based on the agreement made in the six-party talks."
Chief Japanese envoy Kenichiro Sasae expressed regret at the lack of progress.
"We were not able to have substantive discussions over denuclearisation. It is regrettable," Sasae told reporters in Beijing.
The 25 million dollars had been frozen because of US accusations of money laundering and counterfeiting.
The United States announced on Monday that it would allow the money to be returned in an effort to clear the path for progress in the disarmament talks.
But the money was not sent from Macau to a North Korean account at the Bank of China in Beijing, leaving the envoys frustrated and left with little to do but sit in their hotel rooms.
"We must not waste our time and we must swiftly go into discussions over issues of substance," Sasae told reporters on Thursday morning.
Officials spoke of technical problems in transferring the money, but, adding to the confusion, the Bank of China said late Thursday that it had not yet been asked to handle the transfer of the money.
"Up to now we have not been asked to do this business," Li Lihui, the vice chairman and president of the Bank of China, told reporters in Hong Kong.
Hill, who repeatedly expressed frustration during the week at the lack of progress, said on Thursday morning that the transfer should not have been a reason to hold up the talks.
"This was a procedural, form-filling issue," he said, adding he could offer no explanation for the North Koreans' negotiating tactics.
"The day I explain to you the North Korean thinking is the day I have been in this process too long."
North Korea, which conducted its first atomic weapons test in October last year, would eventually receive one million tonnes of heavy fuel or equivalent energy aid if it permanently dismantled its nuclear weapons programme.
The six-nation talks involve the two Koreas, China, the United States, Japan and Russia.
Source: Agence France-Presse
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