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Delegates Express Frustration With Delays in N. Korean Nuclear Talks


South Korean and U.S. negotiators at talks to end North Korea's nuclear programs are indicating rising frustration with delays. North Korea has refused to hold discussions until millions of dollars are transferred to its account in China from a Macau bank. Daniel Schearf reports from Beijing.

North Korea has refused since Tuesday to discuss steps toward dismantling its nuclear programs until about $25 million in its accounts are transferred from a Macau bank to the Bank of China.

As a result, negotiators from the United States, South Korea, Japan, Russia and China have been able to do little but have informal side meetings for the past two days.

South Korea's chief delegate Chun Yung-woo said Wednesday that the delegations are waiting for the Chinese to complete the fund transfer. He says it is just a technical problem, but expressed frustration at having to delay talks and indicated his patience is running out.

"The meeting was originally scheduled until today. And, if it's not resolved, I don't know why we should just waste our time waiting for the obstacle to be cleared," he said.

Last month, North Korea agreed to freeze its main nuclear reactor and allow international nuclear inspectors back into the country by mid-April in exchange for aid and diplomatic incentives. Eventually, under the deal, North Korea is to get rid of all its nuclear weapons and facilities to build them.

The U.S. envoy to the talks, Christopher Hill, says the six countries are on track to implement that agreement. But he says there has been a real "opportunity cost" with the delay in discussions.

"I had looked forward to a much more in depth discussion this week. I've spent a lot of time here," he said. "We have a lot of people who have a lot of work to do, not only here but elsewhere, and so I think if we can't make progress then we have to get back to our offices and start going through our inboxes [incoming-mail box]."

Macau authorities froze the North Korean accounts in 2005 for investigation after Washington accused Banco Delta Asia of helping North Korea launder money and other illicit financial activities. The United States Treasury Department announced last week that U.S. banks no longer can do business with the Macau bank.

Hill says it is possible host China could announce a recess of the talks until the money transfer issue is resolved.

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