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US, Chinese Officials Discuss Difficult North Korean Funds Issue


The chief U.S. negotiator on North Korea's nuclear programs has been meeting with Chinese officials in Beijing to try to resolve problems in transferring money from a Macau bank to North Korea. Pyongyang has refused to resume six-nation talks on its nuclear weapons program until it has possession of the $25 million in the previously frozen accounts, and the U.S. official stays it still might take some time. Daniel Schearf reports from Beijing.

Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill met Wednesday with his Chinese counterpart to six-nation talks, Wu Dawei, to see if they can find a way to transfer the money and resume negotiations to end North Korea's nuclear programs.

The six nations, which include also South Korea, Russia, and Japan, agreed in February to a preliminary timetable for North Korea's nuclear disarmament. The deal included North Korea shutting down its main nuclear reactor by mid-April, but that deadline passed with no action because the transfer was stalled. Pyongyang says it will not act until it has its money in hand.

The funds are in several North Korean accounts at Macau's Banco Delta Asia. They were frozen in 2005 on U.S. suspicions that the bank was aiding North Korean money laundering and counterfeiting.

After meeting Chinese officials Wednesday, Hill told reporters it has been difficult for any bank to move the money because of legal concerns and regulatory issues.

"I know that it's hard to believe that something technical can go on for a couple months," he said. "But it really is a technical matter, which cannot just be solved though political means, but rather needs a complex set of technical solutions which involves several agencies of government on our side. So, it's not easy."

The issue of the funds has bedeviled the disarmament process for almost two years now. After the accounts were frozen, Pyongyang boycotted the negotiations, and last October, it tested a nuclear explosive.

The North Koreans were persuaded to return to talks after the U.S. said it would work to free the Macau funds. It did so earlier this year, but still hasn't figured out how to transfer the money to North Korea.

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