Pyongyang: A US delegation pressed North Korea to shut down its main nuclear reactor and allow in UN inspectors even as the top American negotiator said it would be difficult for a weekend deadline on the closure to be met.
The US delegation said North Korea’s top nuclear negotiator, Kim Kye Gwan, told them on 9 April that his government would allow UN nuclear inspectors into the country as soon as $25 million (Rs107 crore) in disputed North Korean funds are released.
Kim, who is also vice foreign minister, met with Bill Richardson, a Democratic US presidential candidate, and Anthony Principi, US president George W Bush’s former veteran affairs secretary, who are visiting Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital.
But Kim told the US delegation that it would be difficult to shut down the nuclear reactor by 14 April, deadline called for in a February nuclear disarmament accord, Principi said.
“They can make a beginning, but whether they can completely shut down a nuclear reactor in such a short time would be very difficult,” Principi said.
The North only agreed to shut down the reactor after the US promised to resolve the financial issue within 30 days, which Washington failed to do as the fund transfer has been mired in technical complications.
Kim “indicated that the North Korean government would invite the inspectors back, once the funds are released to the North Korean government,” Principi said.
“They believe that it’s critical that the $25 million be returned to their government,” he said.
The dispute over the money has held up progress in implementing the landmark 13 February agreement in which North Korea promised to take initial steps toward dismantling its nuclear program, including closing its main nuclear reactor, in exchange for economic aid and political concessions.
In Tokyo, the top US nuclear envoy said on 9 April that it was difficult to meet because of the ongoing dispute over the frozen funds.
“Clearly, we’re aiming for the complete implementation of the February agreement by day 60 but that timeline is becoming difficult,” said Christopher Hill, who is in Japan to discuss the next stage of the nuclear talks.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack declined to comment on what might happen if North Korea misses the deadline but said the US continued to believe that all parties to the agreement are “working in good faith to meet it.”
But, he said the money issue “was more complicated than anyone could have imagined,” and suggested Washington might not object to an extension in the deadline.
The impoverished North has refused to move forward due to the delayed transfer of the money frozen by Macau authorities after the US blacklisted a bank in the Chinese-administered region in 2005 for allegedly helping Pyongyang launder money.