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US Ups Pressure On North Korea As Deadline Looms

US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack
by Lim Chang-Won
Seoul (AFP) April 12, 2007
The United States expects North Korea to meet a Saturday deadline to fulfil its side of a landmark deal to rein in its nuclear programme, officials said Wednesday, as news came from the reclusive state that its premier had been sacked. "It is our expectation that the North Koreans will fulfill their commitments under the February 13th agreement," US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

"We'll see where we are on Saturday," McCormack said. "Of course if North Korea does not fulfil its obligations in a way that is acceptable to the other members of the six-party talks, then the other members ... will have to examine the process and see where we are."

"I understand that there's been no formal request from the North Korean government to extend the 60-day deadline," he added.

"The commitment is that they would shut down the enrichment-related activities, the reprocessor, the fuel fabrication, the reactor."

Earlier Wednesday, a US delegation chief had said the North would take the first steps to shut down its nuclear reactor within a day after receiving millions of dollars which had been frozen in accounts overseas.

New Mexico state Governor Bill Richardson, who led a team to Pyongyang this week, said he believed the communist state was committed to February's international deal to scrap its nuclear weapons programme.

"The North Korean government told us that with that issue resolved, (it) would move promptly, within a day after receiving the funds," Richardson told a press conference in the South Korean capital.

"And therefore, within that day (it would) invite the IAEA inspectorate to Pyongyang to draft the terms for shutting down the Yongbyon reactor."

North Korea expelled the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors in late 2002 after the latest crisis over its nuclear programme began. It tested its first nuclear weapon last October.

Richardson said officials had mentioned postponing the shutdown by up to a month after the original deadline of this Saturday, because of the delay caused by the banking issue.

"However, we let them know that this was not acceptable and the issue was dropped," he said, adding that the operation should take just a few days.

The pressure came as North Korean state media reported Wednesday night that Pyongyang's parliament had sacked the country's premier, Pak Pong-Ju, and replaced him with transport minister Kim Yong-Il.

The Supreme People's Assembly session "relieved deputy Pak Pong-Ju of premiership and elected deputy Kim Yong-Il premier of the cabinet of the DPRK (North Korea)," the official Korean Central News Agency said.

The agency gave no explanation for the sacking of Pak, 67, who had held the post since September 2003 and was theoretically the head of government.

It was not clear what impact, if any, the reshuffle would have on the delicately poised nuclear talks. All power in the reclusive communist state is centred on leader Kim Jong-Il, son of the nation's founding father and the focus of a vast personality cult.

Under the six-nation deal, the North should disable its nuclear programme in exchange for one million tons of fuel oil or equivalent aid and diplomatic benefits.

As a first step, it was supposed to shut and seal Yongbyon and invite in IAEA inspectors by April 14.

But the North refused to move until it received 25 million dollars which was frozen in Macau's Banco Delta Asia (BDA) until Tuesday, when the United States said Macau authorities agreed to release the funds.

Richardson said the next step would be the Macau bank notifying the North that the money was available for collection. "That should happen late this (Wednesday) afternoon, or tomorrow morning."

The chief US nuclear negotiator Christopher Hill said earlier there was no reason for North Korea to delay further.

"The DPRK (North Korea) has access to their accounts now," he added.

"We think it is a really important time to get on with the ever urgent task of denuclearisation, in particular to get on with the implementation of this February agreement."

Richardson's delegation was tasked with securing the remains of US troops killed in the 1950-53 Korean War, but also discussed the nuclear dispute.

earlier related report
NKorea to start shutting reactor within month
Seoul (AFP) April 11 - North Korea has told a visiting US delegation that it will miss Saturday's deadline to begin shutting down its main nuclear reactor but could start within 30 days, NBC News reported Wednesday.

It said chief nuclear negotiator Kim Kye-Gwan made the promise during a meeting Tuesday with the team led by New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, after apparently accepting assurances it would soon receive funds frozen in a Macau bank.

Kim said the North could start closing the Yongbyon reactor and re-admit UN atomic inspectors within 30 days, the network reported from Pyongyang.

In Seoul the chief US nuclear envoy insisted that the banking dispute, which had blocked progress on a February 13 international disarmament deal, has finally been settled.

Christopher Hill was speaking after the US State Department announced that authorities in Macau had unfrozen the North Korean accounts on Tuesday.

North Korea had refused to shut Yongbyon, as required under the first stage of the pact, until it receives the 25 million dollars frozen in Banco Delta Asia (BDA). Macau authorities froze the accounts after Washington blacklisted the bank for allegedly laundering illicit funds.

"I think we have come to a very important juncture which is that we consider this BDA matter to be really resolved," Hill told reporters. "The DPRK (North Korea) has access to their accounts now.

"We think it is a really important time to get on with the ever urgent task of denuclearisation, in particular to get on with the implementation of this February agreement."

Hill said he would get a better understanding of North Korea's response when he meets Victor Cha, a national security adviser in charge of Korea and Japan who accompanied Richardson's delegation.

The team was officially tasked with securing the remains of US troops killed in the Korean War, but also discussed the nuclear dispute.

Richardson and his party Wednesday crossed the inter-Korean border with remains believed to be those of six US soldiers, the US military said.

Hill was to meet Richardson in Seoul Wednesday afternoon before the governor holds a press conference.

Under the six-nation agreement, energy-starved North Korea agreed to disable its nuclear facilities in return for one million tons of fuel oil or equivalent aid.

As a first step it was to shut down Yongbyon and invite UN inspectors by April 14, receiving an initial 50,000 tons of oil from South Korea in exchange.

US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Tuesday the deadline may be flexible given that there were only four days to go.

"You're bumping up against the technical ability to do that (shutdown) safely," he said. "We'll see where we are at on Saturday."

The six-nation talks grouping the two Koreas, the US, China, Russia and Japan have dragged on since 2003 but assumed added urgency after the North tested an atomic bomb last October.

South Korea is ready to fulfil its side of the deal. It has already bought 50,000 tons of fuel worth 20 billion won (21 million dollars) and signed a contract to hire three vessels to carry it to the North.

The delay is costing it 15 million won a day to store the oil at a refinery and 60 million won a day to maintain the ship rental contract, the unification ministry said.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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North Korea Urged To Close Reactor
Seoul (UPI) April 11, 2007
The United States and South Korea Wednesday called for North Korea to keep on track in its nuclear disarmament agreement, pointing out that a dispute over Pyongyang's assets frozen at a Macao bank has finally been resolved.

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