North Korea Disarmament Deadline Slips

The Associated Press
Saturday, April 14, 2007; 1:58 AM

BEIJING -- North Korea failed to meet a Saturday deadline for shutting down its main nuclear reactor, and the top U.S. nuclear negotiator said the delay was draining momentum from a disarmament plan for the North.

Saturday's missed deadline marked the latest setback for an agreement that when reached in February offered the prospect of disarming the world's newest declared nuclear power. North Korea successfully exploded a nuclear bomb in October.

"We don't have a lot of momentum right now. That is for sure," U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill told reporters before meeting his Chinese counterpart, Wu Dawei.

The disarmament plan, reached after nearly four years of arduous negotiations, laid out a timetable for North Korea to dismantle its nuclear programs. The plan was unexpectedly disrupted by a dispute over frozen North Korean funds in a Macau bank that Washington said this past week was finally resolved.

On Friday, Hill did not say what the consequences would be if the North missed the Saturday deadline.

"There is no reason why the DPRK can't get on with the task of denuclearization," said Hill, using the official name of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

"We are not indifferent to missing a deadline. Obviously it is a very important date," he said. "We will work with our other partners on the appropriate response to the current circumstances."

As part of the disarmament agreement, the North was supposed to gain access to $25 million in frozen funds at the Banco Delta Asia bank in the Chinese territory of Macau. The bank was blacklisted by Washington in September 2005 for allegedly helping the North launder money and pass counterfeit $100 bills.

The funds were unblocked this week, but North Korea's Foreign Ministry said Friday it was still confirming the release. The Ministry said the country would carry out its side of the February agreement "when the lifting of the sanction is proved to be a reality."

North Korea alarmed the world when it conducted its first-ever underground nuclear test. After a 13-month boycott of nuclear talks, it agreed in February with the United States, China, South Korea, Japan and Russia to give up its nuclear programs in exchange for energy aid and political concessions, along with a U.S. promise to resolve the bank issue.

Macau's Monetary Authority, which has taken control of the bank, has been tightlipped about the process of releasing the frozen funds.

But Hill said Friday that the U.S. considered the problem resolved.

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