The chief U.S. negotiator at talks on North Korea's nuclear programs
says Pyongyang may already have its money back from a Macau bank and should shut
down its nuclear facilities in a matter of weeks. As Daniel Schearf reports from
Beijing, finding a bank to receive the formerly frozen North Korean funds has
proven a big obstacle to restarting the nuclear talks.
Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill says North Korea's nuclear
shutdown should now go forward after a Russian bank last week agreed to receive
more than $20 million in North Korean funds that had been frozen in Macau.
Hill told reporters in Beijing the money was in the Russian banking system as
of last Saturday and may have already arrived in North Korea. He said it should
be only a matter of weeks before nuclear talks can continue.
"It took us a long time, longer than any of us suspected. I think all of us
have learned a lot about banking in the process, for what that is worth. But, I
think now we have made an important turn and we are back onto the subject at
hand, which is denuclearization," he said.
Hill says it should not take North Korea more than a couple of weeks to shut
down its nuclear facilities.
"I think political will is something we are going to need," added Hill. "But,
from a technical point of view I think all of it is quite doable. What we need
to do is be very active diplomatically and, frankly, imaginative diplomatically
to get back on our timelines."
North Korea agreed in February to shut down its main nuclear reactor and
allow U.N. inspections in return for heavy fuel oil, a security guarantee, and
But Pyongyang refused to move forward with the agreement because of a delay
in transferring its frozen funds and missed an April deadline to shut down the
Macau authorities froze the accounts in 2005 after U.S. suspicions that a
bank in the Chinese territory was aiding North Korean money laundering. North
Korea boycotted nuclear discussions for over a year and only returned to the
table last December after Washington promised to discuss unfreezing the money.
After an investigation, the United States concluded the bank had indeed aided
illicit North Korean activity, including counterfeiting and drug dealing. But
U.S. officials still agreed to unfreeze the cash to get North Korea back to
No bank could be found that was willing to transfer the suspected illicit
funds until last week, when Russia agreed to transfer the money to Pyongyang.
Hill, who is in Seoul, says South Korea may ship the first batch of heavy
fuel oil to North Korea as early as this week.