Deadlocked talks on North Korea’s nuclear programme ground to a halt on 22 March, with the North Korean and Russian envoys both leaving for the airport after four days of negotiations that went nowhere.
North Korea has avoided discussing a February deal to shut its main nuclear reactor by mid-April since the talks began on 19 March, demanding that $25 million frozen in a Macau bank first be transferred to a bank in Beijing.
North Korean envoy Kim Kye-gwan did not talk to reporters as he entered the airport to catch one of the three scheduled weekly flights to Pyongyang from Beijing.The exasperated US envoy, Christopher Hill, said the delay in the transfer from Macau’s Banco Delta Asia (BDA) needed to be overcome.
“The day I’m able to explain to you North Korean thinking is probably the day I’ve been in this process too long,” he told reporters as he stepped out for talks with China’s envoy, Wu Dawei. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is the North’s formal name.
Yasuhisa Shiozaki, Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, also expressed his frustration at the foot-dragging on the bank issue in which the funds are due to be transferred to a North Korean account with the Bank of China.
“It’s a shame to use this as a reason to not take part in negotiations for two days. It’s really a waste, especially with everyone gathered there,” he told a news conference in Tokyo.
Washington said on 19 March it had ended an investigation into the Macau bank, accused of harbouring North Korean earnings from international crime, which had prompted Macau authorities to take over the bank and freeze the accounts.As part of the February disarmament deal, the United States agreed to resolve North Korea’s complaints about the financial crackdown within 30 days.
But now, beyond that deadline, the money remains stuck in Macau. Both the Macau authorities and BDA said on 22 March they had no news of fresh developments.
Russian envoy Alexander Losyukov, also headed for the airport, said on 21 March that the Bank of China had refused to accept the transfer and a diplomatic source said China did not want to play a role in getting “dirty money” back to impoverished North Korea.
In the meantime, North Korea has been unwilling to engage with the other parties -- South Korea, the United States, host China, Japan and Russia -- on substantive issues of its nuclear programme.