The chief U.S. and South Korean negotiators on North Korea's nuclear weapons program say Pyongyang needs to begin shutting down its nuclear reactor despite the probability of missing a Saturday deadline. Daniel Schearf reports from Beijing.
Pyongyang had agreed to the Saturday deadline for shutting down its nuclear facilities but refused to budge until it had $25 million in frozen North Korean bank accounts from Macau.
The U.S. and South Korean envoys said Thursday in Seoul the money is now available to North Korea, so it should start closing its main reactor and bring international inspectors into the country.
There has been no confirmation on whether North Korea has tried to withdraw the money and no official reaction from the impoverished nation to the funds being unfrozen.
While the North Koreans have been quiet on the nuclear issue, Pyongyang's parliament has named a new premier, Kim Yong Il.
China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang noted the change and urged North Korea to take the opportunity to reform its economy.
Qin says China hopes to see greater opening up and development of North Korea's economy. He says China also is willing to make great efforts to boost North Korea's economic development.
Qin suggested the dispute over the North Korean money transfer was not quite over. He said he hoped it would be resolved soon so six nation talks on Pyongyang's nuclear dismantling could continue.
Macau froze the accounts in 2005 on U.S. suspicions the bank was helping North Korea launder money.
The sanctions effectively cut off North Korea from international sources of finance and Pyongyang boycotted the six-party nuclear disarmament talks.
After an investigation, U.S. authorities said the money could be released to North Korea, and in February, Pyongyang agreed to shut down its nuclear facilities, in return for aid and diplomatic benefits. But the money remained trapped in Macau because other banks refused to accept it.
The talks include North and South Korea, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia.
This week there have been extensive diplomatic discussions on the six-party process. The chief U.S. negotiator, Christopher Hill, has visited Tokyo and Seoul, and is expected to arrive in Beijing Friday to meet with Chinese leaders to discuss the nuclear standoff.
In addition, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has discussed the issue during state visits in South Korea and Japan.