North Korea says it will not shut down its nuclear programs as agreed, until the United States releases millions of dollars frozen in a Macau bank. U.S. officials say that decision is up to Macau. The comments come ahead of Monday's resumption of six-nation talks in Beijing on North Korean nuclear disarmament. VOA's Heda Bayron reports from our Asia News Center in Hong Kong.
North Korea's chief nuclear negotiator, Kim Kye Gwan, threatened to renege on his country's promise last month to abandon its nuclear programs, unless the issue of frozen North Korean funds in Macau is resolved.
Speaking in Beijing Saturday, Kim says his country will not shut down its main Yongbyon nuclear facility, until all the money is released.
The dispute erupted in September 2005, when the United States imposed restrictions on Macau's Banco Delta Asia for alleged money laundering for North Korea's illicit activities. The Monetary Authority of Macau subsequently froze about $24 million in North Korean funds.
The U.S. financial sanctions against North Korea led banks in other countries to curtail financial dealings with North Korea, cutting off much of the isolated country's access to international financing.
The United States had promised it would resolve the issue by this week ahead of crucial disarmament implementation talks in Beijing.
In a decision Wednesday, the U.S. Treasury Department said its investigation found that Banco Delta Asia had indeed "turned a blind eye on the illicit activity" of its North Korean clients, who the U.S. accuses of depositing money from narcotics trading and counterfeiting of U.S. currency. As a result, the United States is banning American banks from doing business with the Macau bank.
U.S. Deputy Assistant Treasury Secretary Daniel Glaser met with Macau's leader and monetary authorities Saturday to discuss the U.S. findings. But he says it is not up to the United States to release North Korea's money.
"I think it is important to emphasize that it was a Macanese action to freeze the funds, and it will be a Macanese process to [determine] the release of the funds," he noted.
The financial issue had been a major stumbling block in nuclear negotiations. For more than a year, Pyongyang refused to return to the bargaining table. It only agreed to resume talks after it conducted its first ever-nuclear test last October.
At the February 13 talks, the U.S. promised to resolve the Macau bank issue after North Korea agreed to take steps to shut down its nuclear programs within 60 days, in exchange for economic and diplomatic benefits.
The next round of talks resume in Beijing Monday on how to implement the February agreement. The chief U.S. negotiator, Christopher Hill, says he does not believe the Macau bank issue should be an obstacle.