Bank row threatens North Korea deal

Pyongyang says it will not end its nuclear programme unless bank funds are released.

    Kim Kye Gwan was in Beijing for six-party talks on ending North Korea's nuclear programme [Reuters]
    "What I mean is the initial steps. We are not going to stop the operation of the Yongbyon nuclear facility."

    Yongbyon shutdown

    The two Koreas, the US, China, Japan and Russia agreed on February 13 that Pyongyang would shut Yongbyon, the heart of North Korea's nuclear programme, by mid-April in return for aid and security pledges.

    Washington also agreed to defuse North Korea's complaints about its crackdown on Banco Delta Asia within 30 days.

    The US treasury department completed an 18-month investigation into Banco Delta Asia (BDA) earlier this week - which had been blacklisted for its alleged complicity in laundering North Korean money  - and banned US banks from doing business with it.

    Christopher Hill, the chief US negotiator, said earlier on Saturday that he planned to brief Kim on the issue.

    "I don't think BDA will be an obstacle," he said before meeting Kim. "I think we'll work that out."

    On Thursday, Qin Gang, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, said  that he "deeply" regretted the US decision, which he suggested could destabilise Macau's financial system and harm the talks.

    Bank dispute

    North Korea has identified the bank dispute as the reason it stayed away from the six-party talks for more than a year.

    A US treasury official said on Saturday that it was up to the Macau authorities to decide whether to release North Korean funds.

    "It will be for the Macau authorities to decide what to do with  the funds, whether to release it or not. We did conduct an investigation and hope our investigation will be helpful to their determination," Daniel Glaser said after leading a treasury delegation to Macau.
    "I think they will act responsibly with that information as they have acted responsibly all along," he added. 
    Nuclear test

    The six-party talks only resumed after the North tested a suspected nuclear device in October.

    The US treasury has barred American banks
    from dealing with Banco Delta Asia [EPA]

    Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the UN nuclear watchdog, said on Friday that he hoped the April 13 deadline for starting to dismantle North  Korea's nuclear weapons programme could still be met.
    He told reporters on returning to Vienna after visits to Pyongyang and Beijing that he thought the North Koreans "still would like to see that deadline respected and we still hope to do it by April 13."
    ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said: "If the financial sanctions are over, then we expect the DPRK [North Korea] to invite us to work out the modalities of monitoring and verification" of the deal to close and seal the plutonium-producing reactor.

    When asked about admitting nuclear inspectors, Kim said: "Since we will not stop the nuclear facility unless the sanctions are lifted, there is no reason for inspectors to come in."

    SOURCE: Agencies


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