The two Koreas, the US, China, Japan and Russia, reached an agreement on Febuary 13 giving North Korea 60 days to shut its Yongbyon nuclear reactor in return for energy aid and security pledges.

The US also promised to deal with complaints about the freezing of $24m in North Korean assets held by the bank within 30 days.

'Willing pawn'

The US says the treasury's announcement signalled an end to its 18-month investigation into the bank, which the United States describes as a "willing pawn" in illicit North Korean financial dealings.

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Pyongyang had no imediate response but China, which worked closely with Hill during the disarmament talks, wanted any decision on the North Korean accounts to help protect Macau's financial and social stability and to help the six-party talks.

"The reason China has expressed its regret because we have those two concerns and these should be fully taken into account," Qin Gang, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, said.

Macau, a former Portuguese colony, is now a special administrative region of China. 

"They want to make sure that Macau's reputation is intact so I'm not surprised they would say that but I would disagree," Hill said.

'Regret'

The Macau monetary authority also expressed "regret" over the US decision, and said it would take steps necessary to maintain Macau's financial stability.

In September 2005, Washington labelled Banco Delta Asia a "primary money-laundering concern" that helped funnel Pyongyang's takings from counterfeiting US money, drug trafficking and other misdeeds.
   
Qin did not directly answer questions about whether his country would raise the bank issue in the six-party talks and what Beijing hopes Pyongyang's response will be.
   
"We will express our concerns to the United States through suitable channels," he said. "I can't speak for North Korea."