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US Envoy Believes North Korea Will Honor Nuclear Agreement


A special U.S. envoy to North Korea says he believes the communist nation will honor an agreement to shut down a nuclear reactor, despite the expiration of a key deadline Saturday. VOA's Michael Bowman reports, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson made the comment on U.S. television early Sunday.

Governor Richardson, an opposition Democrat and presidential candidate, who also serves as a special envoy on North Korea, says Pyongyang may be late in honoring the terms of a February disarmament accord, but he does not believe the North Koreans are scuttling the deal.

"They are difficult, they are unpredictable, they are isolated. But at the same time I do believe that next week they are going to come forward and say, 'we are shutting down this reactor, we are inviting the international inspectors.' It is going to take a while, but I believe we are all moving in the right direction," Richardson said on ABC's This Week program.

The top U.S. representative to the six-party talks, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, has expressed disappointment and frustration, saying he is "not happy" with the passing of the deadline. He added that the United States will closely monitor the situation in coming days.

There has been no official comment from Pyongyang since Saturday, but North Korea previously insisted it must have access to funds that had been frozen in a Macau bank. Assistant Secretary of State Hill says Pyongyang now has access to the $25 million, funds the United States maintains were tied to money laundering operations. The U.S. cleared the way for the funds to be released last month. However, the transfer of the money has been delayed by what officials say are banking technicalities.

Some observers have questioned whether North Korean officials will ever find it advantageous to fully terminate their country's nuclear weapons program. Governor Richardson says he believes they will.

"In exchange for the North Koreans dismantling their nuclear weapons, North Korea gets a substantial amount of fuel oil, food, energy assistance, the lifting of sanctions, an armistice agreement which basically ends the Korean War. I believe they have made the strategic decision to move forward," he continued. "But at the same time the nuclear card is their biggest asset. So they are going to play it to the hilt."

Richardson added that he sees North Korea's return of the remains of six U.S. soldiers from the Korean war as a hopeful sign of cooperation from Pyongyang.