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US Negotiator Urges North Korea to Start Shutting Nuclear Facilities

The U.S. envoy to six-nation talks has urged North Korea to begin shutting down its nuclear facilities after Pyongyang indicated it wants a Saturday deadline on the shutdown extended by a month. Daniel Schearf reports from Beijing.

U.S. negotiator Christopher Hill said unfreezing North Korean bank accounts in Macau has paved the way for Pyongyang to begin shutting down its main nuclear reactor in line with a February agreement.

North Korea has refused to start shutting down the reactor or to allow in U.N. nuclear inspectors until it has $25 million held in a Macau bank.

Macau authorities say the money now can be transferred to North Korea.

A U.S. delegation that just ended a trip to Pyongyang says North Korean officials pledged to invite international nuclear inspectors into the country the same day they have the funds.

But the delegation reports the North Koreans said they would not likely meet the April 14 deadline to shut down and wanted it extended by 30 days.

Hill is in Seoul for talks on North Korea. He says now is not the time to talk about changing deadlines, but for Pyongyang to begin meeting is obligations.

"You know, I do not want to get into extending the deadline at this point. Our issue is, we have welcomed this decision by Macau, we are expecting the North Koreans to do the same and to get going on its denuclearization," he said. "So let us see how we do. What is important is for the North Koreans to get back on denuclearization and off of this banking issue."

Many regional political analysts say the deadline is not so important since all six nations - North and South Korea, China, Russia, Japan and the United States - are committed to the February deal.

Paul French, a Shanghai-based author and expert on North Korea, says the impoverished North Korea probably is eager not only to get the money, but also to get promised oil and other aid once it shuts down its nuclear programs.

"The nuclear weapons are a bargaining chip. Their bomb is for sale. What this government in Pyongyang is interested in is regime survival. And, regime survival means keeping the drip feed of energy aid and food aid going and of guaranteeing their sovereignty," said French. "It has never been about owning a bomb for the sake of a bomb. The bomb has always been a tradable commodity."

Macau froze the accounts in 2005 because of U.S. suspicions the bank holding the money was aiding North Korean counterfeiting and other illegal activities. The freeze prompted Pyongyang to boycott the nuclear talks for more than a year.

North Korea returned to talks in December on the condition the banking issue would be resolved.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao is in Japan where he is expected to discuss North Korea with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

And later this week, U.S. envoy Hill goes to Beijing for meetings on the issue.