N.Korea insists US unfreeze $25m

Updated: 2007-03-17 11:39
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BEIJING - North Korea will not stop its nuclear activity unless $25 million of its funds held in a Macau bank are fully released, the DPRK's top nuclear envoy said Saturday.

N.Korea insists US unfreeze $25m
North Korea's negotiator for the six-party talks Kim Kye-gwan speaks to the media after arriving in Beijing's airport in this February 8, 2007, file photo. [Reuters]
N.Korea insists US unfreeze $25m
Banco Delta Asia had been blacklisted by Washington since September 2005 for its complicity in North Korean money laundering.

Earlier this week, the US Treasury Department ended its investigation into the small Macau lender and said that ties would be cut with the bank and the US financial system. The move might lead regulators to unfreeze a portion of the money.

Issuing  DPRK's first official response to the US decision, Kim Gye Gwan said Saturday in Beijing that his country has not heard anything officially about the lifting of financial sanctions.

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"We will not stop our nuclear activity until our funds frozen in the BDA are fully released," he said. "We will not stop the Yongbyon nuclear facility until the United States fully releases our funds frozen in the BDA."

Christopher Hill, the chief American nuclear negotiator, said earlier Saturday that he planned to brief Kim on the issue in working groups.

"I don't think BDA will be an obstacle," he said before meeting Kim. "I think we'll work that out."

Washington had promised to resolve the issue as part of the implementation of a landmark Feb. 13 agreement under which North Korea agreed to shut down Yongbyon, its main nuclear reactor and processing facility, and allow UN inspectors for verification by April 14.

In return, North Korea would receive energy and economic assistance and a start toward normalizing relations with the US and Japan.

Hill also said the US plans to raise the issue of North Korea's alleged uranium enrichment program when six-nation talks on ridding Pyongyang of its nuclear weapons resume Monday.

US allegations that North Korea has a uranium enrichment program brought on the nuclear crisis in 2002 that led the country to kick out UN inspectors and ultimately contributed to North Korea testing its first nuclear bomb last year.

North Korea has never publicly acknowledged that it has such a program.

Washington will also discuss benchmarks for progress in Pyongyang's de-nuclearization efforts, Hill said.

North Korea would be rewarded for meeting those benchmarks with deliveries of heavy fuel oil agreed to under a landmark Feb. 13 agreement, he said.