By Maureen Fan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, March 22, 2007
BEIJING, March 21 -- After two days of holding up six-nation talks aimed at dismantling the nuclear program of North Korea, the communist state's delegation agreed to a request by China to stay another day for "substantive discussions," diplomats said Wednesday night.
The extension deal came in a brief meeting of all the top envoys to the talks, after a long day in which negotiators who had hoped to discuss a schedule for shutting down the nuclear program appeared to lose patience with the slow progress.
Wednesday was supposed to be the third and last day of this round of discussion. Instead, that conversation has barely begun. For the second consecutive day, the North Koreans refused to come to the talks' six-sided table to discuss what would happen after their reactor at Yongbyon is shut down next month, saying they wanted first to see $25 million frozen by the U.S. government transferred to a bank account in Beijing.
Macau authorities were apparently having difficulty confirming the ownership of about 50 North Korean accounts, most of which were said to belong to officials of the Zokwang Trading Co., a Macau-based, North Korean-owned company that the United States has long suspected of money laundering, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported.
China's top negotiator, Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei, asked the delegates to stay one day, possibly two, said Assistant Secretary of State Christopher R. Hill, the chief U.S. negotiator. "My own view was we should either have a recess or we should stay and work," Hill said Wednesday night.
"We all have jobs to do, and waiting around for some forms to fill out is not usually part of our job description," Hill added. "I'm sure it will be sorted out, but the problem is, you can't expect all these large delegations to sit around while it's being sorted out."
Describing the funds issue as a "minor technical obstacle," South Korean envoy Chun Yung Woo said: "If it's not resolved, I don't know why we should just waste our time waiting for the obstacle to be clear."
One of the incentives for North Korea to shut down its reactor next month, as it promised in a Feb. 13 agreement, is the receipt of much-needed heavy fuel oil promised by South Korea.
But "unless we know when the nuclear facilities will be shut down, unless we know when the IAEA will be back to the site, there's no way we can shift the heavy fuel oil," Chun told reporters at midday Wednesday, referring to the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Russian envoy Alexander Losyukov, who earlier in the day had said he was prepared to leave town Thursday, was quoted by the New China News Agency as saying: "As far as I know, the Bank of China refuses to accept the transfer of the frozen funds" from Banco Delta Asia, the Macau institution that the United States has accused of laundering illicit funds.
North Korea's status as a financial outlaw may have contributed to the slow pace of the funds transfer, Hill said. He said China had assured him it could resolve the bank account issues.
Researcher Jin Ling contributed to this report.