Thursday, April 12, 2007

All eyes on North Korea nuke action

Source: CNN.

(CNN) -- The United States will assess on Saturday whether North Korea has taken action to shut down its Yongbyon nuclear reactor, now that the communist nation has gained access to unfrozen funds, said U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.

"It's now up to them, and we have to see," said U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, the chief U.S. envoy involved in nuclear talks with North Korea. "If they don't fulfill their obligations here, we'll know that very soon, and we'll have to deal with that accordingly."

Under a deal announced on February, North Korea said it would disarm its nuclear facilities in return for energy, financial and humanitarian aid. The agreement followed six-party talks involving the United States, China, South Korea, Japan and Russia.

A major sticking point was the $25 million in North Korean funds, claimed by the United States to contain money from illegal activities, that had been frozen at the Banco Delta Asia in Macau since late 2005.

North Korea said it would close the nuclear reactor 30 days after the money was released, which occurred on Wednesday. (Full story)

"The problem in giving the money back to these accounts is, the North Koreans have not started the process of denuclearization," Hill said. (why the release of funds is so significant)

"We've made it clear to them that we're going to be watching carefully," Hill said. "They are really on notice."

The process of shutting down the reactor and reprocessing facility should be completed in a matter of weeks, Hill said.

Asked about whether North Korea may seek a 30-day extension, Hill said, "I just don't think it's very helpful to talk about extensions of any time at this point." The focus, he said, needs to be on starting the process of shutting down the reactor.

Concerns about keeping the money from going to "nefarious people for nefarious purposes" have been communicated to North Korea, and Pyongyang has pledged to work to keep that from happening, Hill said.

Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said North Korea is willing to let its monitors verify the shutdown of the Yongbyon facility.

The release of North Korea's frozen funds coincided with a four-day trip by New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, a presidential contender, to bring the remains of U.S. soldiers from the Korean War home. He left North Korea Wednesday with the remains of six U.S. soldiers, according to the communist nation's official news agency, KCNA. (Details)

"I am optimistic North Korea will shut down their reactor and return to six-party talks ... after our discussions," Richardson said. "Now the ball is in North Korea's court to take the next important steps."

The United States halted oil shipments to Pyongyang after North Korea admitted in October 2002 that it was developing a nuclear-weapons program in violation of the 1994 Agreed Framework between the United States and North Korea.

Such oil shipments would resume under the February agreement.

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