The United States said Wednesday it still expects implementation of the six-party agreement to end North Korea's nuclear program despite a financial snag that has stalled the process. The deal has fallen more than a month behind schedule. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.
The delay has meant the continued operation of North Korea's reactor complex at Yongbyon. But officials here say there is no evidence the North Koreans are taking advantage of the situation to harvest additional nuclear explosives.
Yongbyon was to have been shut down April 14 under the six-party accord, concluded 60 days earlier, in which North Korea committed to eventually scrap its entire nuclear program in exchange for aid and diplomatic incentives.
However, it predicated its implementation steps on the return of $25 million frozen at a Chinese bank in Macau, Banco Delta Asia, that had been blacklisted by the United States as an outlet for illicit North Korean financial activity.
Though the Bush administration insists it has done everything it needed to do to release the money, North Korea has yet to collect it, apparently because other banks are reluctant to handle the funds.
The delay in implementation has emboldened U.S. critics of the nuclear accord, notably former Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, who says North Korea has no intention of giving up its nuclear weapons.
The North Korean government Tuesday rejected assertions it has been using the funds issue as a delaying tactic, and said once the transfer takes place it will take immediate steps to close the Yongbyon site.
At a news briefing, State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey acknowledged the Banco Delta Asia (BDA) issue had been far more complicated than expected but said the United States still believes the denuclearization accord will go forward:
"The BDA issue became a much more difficult nut to crack that anyone thought it was going to be," he said. "That said, we still have a commitment from the North Koreans to follow through on the shutdown of Yongbyon, which is what was called for in that February 13 agreement, and to do so as soon as the funds are transferred out of BDA. We all wish that that had happened sooner. But at this point I think it's inappropriate to try to judge the outcome of the process when we're still in the second quarter of the game."
A U.S. diplomat who spoke to reporters said no administration officials are ready to accuse North Korea of acting in bad faith.
He also said there are no signs the North Koreans are harvesting additional plutonium from the fuel rods at the Yongbyon site.
North Korea is believed to have extracted enough plutonium from the reactor to build several weapons, after the collapse of the 1994 nuclear freeze accord it had reached with the Clinton administration.
It expelled International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors from Yongbyon at the end of 2002 when the Bush administration confronted Pyongyang with evidence it was violating the 1994 framework.
The inspectors are to be invited back to verify the shutdown of Yongbyon and officials at the U.N. agency in Vienna say they are ready to deploy on short notice.
North Korea is to receive an initial 50,000 tons of fuel oil once it shuts down the reactor and is due to get a total of a million tons of oil or equivalent aid for completely scrapping its nuclear program.
Working groups have already been convened to start the implementation of other aspects of the deal, which would among other things lead to a permanent Korean peace treaty and normalized relations between North Korea and the United States and Japan.
The other parties to the six-way accord are South Korea, Russia and China.