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North Korea Skips Nuclear Meeting Pending Money Transfer


Talks on North Korea's nuclear programs hit a snag in Beijing, with North Korean negotiators refusing to attend a meeting of the heads of delegation. Diplomats say the North Koreans are demanding they first get back money that was frozen in a Macau bank. As VOA's Luis Ramirez reports from Beijing, the United States says that, despite the snag, talks remain on track.

The dispute over the nearly $25 million frozen by U.S. actions in a Macau bank has long been a stumbling block to the nuclear talks.

Negotiators, however, had hoped that a recent agreement clearing the way for the release of that money would allow them to move on to the far more important issue of denuclearization.

But Pyongyang says an agreement is not enough. It wants the cash in its hands before it continues with the six-nation talks.

The issue of the funds resurfaced on Tuesday, slowing down what is supposed to be a meeting to set a timetable for the dismantling of North Korea's nuclear programs.

Nori Shikata, a spokesman for the Japanese delegation, told VOA the Chinese hosts say North Korea is not talking until the money from Banco Delta Asia, or BDA, shows up in Pyongyang's bank account.

"After we had a meeting with the Chinese delegation, we heard that North Korea is taking the position that they will not participate in the heads of delegation meetings as long as they cannot confirm the transfer of money from BDA," said Nori Shikata.

U.S. officials this week announced the money would be released to a bank in Beijing, after they received North Korean assurances that the funds - which the U.S. alleged were obtained through counterfeiting and other illegal activities - would be used for humanitarian and educational purposes.

Macanese officials on Monday confirmed that they would transfer the funds to a bank account in Beijing - a transaction that requires paperwork and time.

The latest round of talks among China, Japan, North Korea, Russia, South Korea, and the United States began here on Monday, and diplomats said they did not see the latest snag as something that could derail the process.

Chief U.S. negotiator Christopher Hill said he is confident the talks remain on track despite the North Koreans' boycotting of Tuesday's plenary session.

He said the matter should be resolved as soon as banking formalities are completed.

"I think they want their money but I assume it will be worked out in banking circles and they'll figure out a solution to that," he said. "From our point of view, we would like the money transferred as soon as possible, but that has to be resolved and I'm sure there are a number of banking institutions working on it."

The aim of this round is to evaluate the implementation of a February 13 agreement that calls for North Korea to shut down its main nuclear reactor and a plutonium factory, in exchange for energy aid and diplomatic concessions.

The negotiators hope to leave with a timetable for the nuclear shutdown.