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US Says North Korea Nuclear Deal Still On Track


The State Department said Friday a way has been found to transfer frozen funds to North Korea, and that the six-party deal under which Pyongyang is to give up its nuclear program is still on track. A senior U.S. envoy is being sent to the region in advance of an April 14 implementation deadline for the first phase of the accord. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

Resolving the financial aspects of the nuclear deal has been far more complicated than the Bush administration anticipated.

But officials here say nearly two weeks of technical discussions in Beijing involving a U.S. Treasury Department team have produced a way forward, and that all that remains is the implementation of the payment to North Korea.

The Pyongyang government has been holding up action on disarmament pending the return of $25 million of its funds, impounded by a Macau-based Chinese bank, which the United States said had been used as a clearing house for illicit North Korean business activity, including counterfeiting U.S. currency.

The United States agreed in principle to return the money as part of the February 13 agreement under which North Korea said it would scrap its nuclear program in return for energy aid and other incentives.

But the actual transfer of the money has reportedly been slowed by difficulties in finding a bank willing to accept the allegedly tainted North Korean funds.

In a talk with reporters, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said the Beijing talks had produced what he termed a technical pathway by which the funds can be transferred.

McCormack said the United States believes the April 14 implementation deadline can still be met, and that the chief U.S. envoy to the nuclear talks - Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian Affairs Christopher Hill - will return to the region to shepherd the process.

"Our view is, the parties should be able to still meet the deadlines," he said. "We're going to work hard towards that, and Chris Hill is going to be traveling out, leaving Sunday, for consultations in the region to refocus attention on the core of the six-party talk discussions, which is denuclearization."

In the first phase of the February 13 agreement, North Korea is to shut down its Yongbyon nuclear reactor complex within 60 days of the signing, in return for 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil.

The reactor shutdown, to be overseen by international inspectors, has not occurred, though other aspects of the initial phase of the agreement have gone forward, including the convening of working groups aimed at regularizing North Korea's relations with the United States and Japan.

Spokesman McCormack said Assistant Secretary Hill will begin his talks in the region Monday in Tokyo, and go on to Seoul and Beijing. He said no meetings with North Korean officials had been scheduled in the Chinese capital, but did not rule it out.

He said Hill's agenda would include discussion of the ministerial-level meeting of the six parties, which is to be held following completion of the first phase of the deal, and the timeline for other phases, as well.

North Korea is obliged over the long-term to completely dismantle its weapons project and other aspects of its nuclear program in return for a total of one-million tons of fuel oil or equivalent aid, along with diplomatic and other economic benefits.

The six-party process includes Japan, South Korea and Russia as well as the United States, North Korea and China.

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