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US Flexible on Korea Nuclear Timetable

The United States said Tuesday it is prepared to allow more time for North Korea to fulfill terms of the six-party agreement under which it is to give up its nuclear program. The comments came amid reports Pyongyang may be preparing to shut down its main reactor complex. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The deadline for North Korean compliance with the first phase of the six-way nuclear agreement passed on Saturday.

But officials here are making clear they are willing to give Pyongyang more time to fulfill its part of the accord, in part because of unforeseen complications in a separate U.S.-North Korean financial agreement.

By last Saturday, 60 days after the February 13 Beijing agreement, North Korea was to have closed down its Yongbyon reactor complex in exchange for 50,000 tons of fuel oil.

The plant has not been sealed and Pyongyang has not yet allowed U.N. inspectors to go to the site to verify the shutdown. However, South Korean news reports Tuesday said U.S. satellite images are showing new activity at the reactor complex indicating that North Korea may be preparing to close the facility.

In a talk with reporters, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack declined to discuss what U.S. intelligence may have observed at Yongbyon and said there has been no official notice from North Korea of a shutdown.

As the same time he made clear the United States is willing to allow more time for North Korean compliance:

"Of course we would have wished that all the actions could have been taken within the deadlines,” he said. “But we also have an understanding that this process was a lot more complicated than we and others had anticipated, and that we're willing to give it a little more time. We would encourage North Korea to assume their obligations under the February 13 agreement, to follow through on what they said that they would do."

In a side agreement to the nuclear deal, the United States agreed to arrange the release of $25 million in North Korean funds frozen at a Chinese bank in Macau that the U.S. Treasury Department had said was an outlet for illicit financial activity by Pyongyang.

U.S. officials say bureaucratic procedures for releasing the funds were unexpectedly complex but they insist that the money was available for North Korea to withdraw late last week.

Spokesman McCormack said press reports Tuesday that the money was still encumbered by U.S. restrictions were inaccurate, and that any remaining issues were solely a matter between North Korea and its bankers.

Under the step-by-step nuclear accord, North Korea is to irreversibly dismantle its nuclear program including its weapons effort in exchange for a total of one million tons of fuel oil or equivalent aid and other incentives, including normalized relations with the United States and Japan.

Completion of the first phase of the deal is to be marked by a ministerial-level meeting of the six parties, which include the two Koreas, Japan, Russia, China and the United States.