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North Korea: Bank Problem Could Stall Nuclear Moves

Thursday, 21 June 2007 12:00 AM

BEIJING -- A visit by the U.N. atomic watchdog to Pyongyang set for next week is on hold, a North Korean official said on Thursday, casting uncertainty over disarmament moves even as the top U.S. nuclear envoy made a surprise trip to the North.

Christopher Hill arrived in Pyongyang on Thursday, days after the communist state indicated it would move to shut its Yongbyon nuclear reactor and allow a return of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors as part of an initial disarmament deal agreed in February.

North Korea had refused to honor the deal until $25 million frozen at Macau's Banco Delta Asia was released with U.S. help.

But the progress in the long stalled nuclear negotiations was overshadowed later in the day by North Korea's announcement that a previously announced IAEA visit to Pyongyang could be stalled over the money.

A North Korean diplomat said $25 million in frozen North Korean funds that were expected to reach a North Korean account in Russia had not yet arrived, contradicting previous reports.

"As of now, the frozen funds had not reached our bank account. Nobody knows why the remittance is delayed," said Hyon Yong Man, counselor at Pyongyang's embassy in Vienna, where the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) watchdog is based.

"Our side has informed the IAEA that we have no objection to them preparing the visit as a plan, but we are not ready to give our official confirmation for the visit as scheduled by the agency (next week).

Separately, North Korea accused the South of sending naval vessels into its territorial waters off the west coast and warned of retaliatory action.

Seoul denied its vessels had intruded into the North's waters.

ABRUPT TWIST

The abrupt twist threw uncertainty over growing momentum in the nuclear disarmament deal and talk of a possible new round of six party negotiations. Those talks bring together the two Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia.

Officials in Beijing, Seoul and Tokyo all said they did not know of the latest North Korean statement on the IAEA visit, and Hill was not reachable for comment.

The U.S. nuclear envoy's surprise visit to North Korea came as the Philippine foreign minister -- just back from the reclusive state -- said Pyongyang was committed to keeping its pledges under the disarmament deal but wanted others to do the same.

Hill had said that six-country talks on the deal, under which the impoverished communist country would receive hundreds of millions of dollars in aid, would likely resume in early July.

But he said during talks in Tokyo that Pyongyang must keep the promise it made in February to shut down a nuclear reactor.

"We hope that we can make up for some of the time that we lost this spring and we are looking forward to good discussions about that," South Korean broadcaster YTN showed Hill saying upon arrival in Pyongyang.

Hill is the most senior State Department official to visit North Korea since October 2002, when envoy James Kelly confronted Pyongyang with evidence that Washington said pointed to a covert uranium enrichment program.

In a sign the diplomatic pace was picking up, China said its Foreign Minister, Yang Jiechi, would visit North Korea in early July.

In Beijing, Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo said senior North Korean officials had told him they were committed to denuclearizing the peninsula and keeping their side of the February 13 disarmament deal -- if others did the same.

SEEKING REWARDS

Hill will stay in Pyongyang through Friday and meet his North Korean counterpart in the nuclear talks, Vice Foreign minister Kim Kye-gwan, a U.S. State Department spokesman said.

North Korea, which conducted its first nuclear test last October, had said on Saturday it would re-admit inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), as required under the accord clinched in Beijing on February 13.

The IAEA delegation has been scheduled to arrive in Pyongyang next week to lay the groundwork for the inspections.

An unidentified North Korean diplomatic source, quoted by Russia's Interfax news agency on Monday, said the North would seal the reactor at Yongbyon, about 100 km (60 miles) north of Pyongyang, in the second half of July.

© reuters 2007. All Rights Reserved.

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BEIJING -- A visit by the U.N. atomic watchdog to Pyongyang set for next week is on hold, a North Korean official said on Thursday, casting uncertainty over disarmament moves even as the top U.S. nuclear envoy made a surprise trip to the North. Christopher Hill arrived...
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2007-00-21
Thursday, 21 June 2007 12:00 AM
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