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North Korea Nuclear Talks Extended as Bank Stalemate Continues

The North Korea nuclear talks are being extended in Beijing as Pyongyang continues to insist it gets back $25 million that had been frozen in a Macau bank. VOA's Luis Ramirez reports from Beijing.

Diplomats had hoped to conclude what was supposed to be a three-day session, but with the North Koreans boycotting plenary sessions for two days, the Chinese hosts decided to try again and asked all the participants to stay another day.

The impasse involves North Korea's insistence that it first confirm receipt of nearly $25 million being released from a Macau bank, before continuing with negotiations. The money had been frozen during an 18-month U.S. probe into allegations that the bank, Banco Delta Asia, had helped launder millions of dollars that North Korea obtained through counterfeiting, drug trafficking, and other crimes.

A U.S. ruling recently cleared the way for Macau to release the funds to North Korea via a Chinese bank, which by late Wednesday, had not happened.

U.S. envoy Christopher Hill said the North Koreans did attend a short plenary session. He said the Chinese hosts are working to keep the talks going and make up for lost time.

"They feel they can resolve some of these issues with the bank accounts that have really slowed things up and so they are hopeful that in another day we can get back to some of the real issues that we are trying to get resolved," he said.

Hill says the stalemate over the funds has prevented the participants from getting to the core issue of nuclear disarmament.

In a February preliminary accord, Pyongyang promised to shut down its main nuclear reactor and plutonium factory by mid-April in exchange for energy aid and diplomatic concessions. Ultimately, the agreement calls for North Korea to provide a full accounting of its nuclear capabilities and a disabling of its facilities.

The participants in the talks, which also include officials from Japan, Russia, and South Korea, hope to leave Beijing with a timetable for implementation of the February agreement.