US considering release of some N.Korea funds
Updated: 2007-01-17 10:03
Washington - The US Treasury Department is scrutinizing
US$24 million in North Korean accounts frozen in a Macao bank to see if some of
the money could be released to Pyongyang, US officials
Several officials told reporters they believe the Bush
administration is now inclined to find a solution to the year-long dispute over
the accounts in Banco Delta Asia, which Washington has called a "willing pawn"
in Pyongyang's counterfeiting and money-laundering activities.
stressed this would not affect UN sanctions and US laws and regulations that
provide other authority for cracking down on Pyongyang's finances and weapons
North Korea has cited the frozen Banco Delta Asia (BDA) accounts
as a major reason for stonewalling six-country talks on ending its nuclear
Chief US negotiator Chris Hill met his North Korean counterpart
in Berlin on Tuesday to discuss resuming the talks and the BDA issue was
expected to be on the agenda.
"There are a number of North Korean
accounts in Banco Delta Asia that the (Treasury) accountants are looking at.
They are comparing these accounts," said one US official who spoke on condition
It is possible that accounts reflecting "legitimate"
business activity could be segregated from "illegitimate" accounts and "a lot of
resources are being applied to make that kind of assessment," he said.
Previously, US officials
argued it was impossible to differentiate among Pyongyang's accounts because the
country's entire financial system is based on illicit activities such as
counterfeiting and money-laundering.
Experts say $7.5 million of the $24
million was from Daedong Credit Bank, a British bank representing foreign
companies doing business in North Korea.
The Treasury Department on
Tuesday refused to comment on the status of the BDA investigation and whether it
was looking for a compromise solution.
But a second US official said:
"They are taking another look at this (BDA) issue. There is active discussion
within the administration on whether to make concessions and if so, how far, how
fast and under what conditions."
Hill is "hoping to close" Treasury's
investigation on Banco Delta Asia, he added.
Macao, not the United
States, has control over BDA and the North Korean accounts. US officials said if
Treasury closed its BDA probe, this could be interpreted by Macao as a signal to
release at least some of the $24 million.
Some officials are deeply
troubled by what they see as a more accommodating US approach toward Pyongyang
and say Hill has been given greater flexibility to negotiate. They say North
Korea can't be trusted to honor any deal.
But other officials say North
Korean counterfeiting and money-laundering, while important to stop, should not
be allowed to thwart a possible deal that could halt the North's vastly more
dangerous nuclear weapons-related activities.
Pyongyang has dramatically
advanced its nuclear program during US President George W. Bush's tenure. It
tested its first weapon last October.
During the last round of six-party
talks in Beijing in December, North Korea refused to even discuss a September
2005 statement under which it agreed to abandon its nuclear programs in return
for economic aid and security guarantees.
All Pyongyang's negotiator
"wanted to talk about was one issue -- BDA -- and the return of the $24
million," one US official said. A US-North Korea financial working group
expected to meet soon would discuss the "substance" of the BDA accounts, a US
Six-party talks in November 2005 broke off after
Washington squeezed Pyongyang's access to the world financial system to punish
it for its illegal activities. Banco Delta Asia accounts were frozen after
Washington declared the bank a "primary money laundering concern" under section
311 of the USA Patriot Act.
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