Just One Day Away, but A World Apart

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Sometimes high diplomacy depends on simple math.

Take the North Korean nuclear deal, which was reached in Beijing on Feb. 13. Under a side agreement, the United States promised to resolve within 30 days a Treasury Department case that had frozen North Korean funds at a bank in Macau suspected of distributing dollars counterfeited in North Korea. U.S. officials have said the case will be settled this week, probably today or tomorrow.

The North Koreans count Feb. 13 as one of the 30 days, meaning that by their math the deadline is today, according to a source in touch with the government in Pyongyang. But U.S. officials do not count the 13th, so 30 days to the United States means the deadline is tomorrow.

"I guess they had to cut math from the curriculum to make time for Counterfeiting 101," sniffed one U.S. official.

North Korean officials have said that a failure to end the Banco Delta Asia matter to their satisfaction could torpedo a deal under which Pyongyang freezes and then "seals" its nuclear reactor in exchange for 50,000 tons of fuel oil. U.S. officials expect up to $12 million out of $24 million in frozen funds eventually to be released from the bank -- though perhaps not quickly enough to please the North Koreans.

-- Glenn Kessler

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