SEOUL, South Korea – Top Asian diplomats are skeptical that North Korea will meet a deadline for shutting down its atomic reactor due to the stalled transfer of its funds frozen at a Macau bank, news reports said Wednesday.
In 2005, the U.S. accused Macau-based Banco Delta Asia of helping North Korea launder money and handle counterfeit $100 bills, leading the bank to freeze North Korean accounts worth $25 million. North Korea reacted angrily and boycotted disarmament talks for more than a year, during which it tested a nuclear weapon in October.
But the U.S. agreed on Feb. 13 to resolve the financial row in 30 days to prod North Korea to take initial steps toward dismantling its nuclear program by shutting down its sole operating reactor by April 14. In exchange, the North is to receive aid worth 1 million tons of heavy fuel oil and political concessions.
However, the return of the frozen money to North Korea has been delayed by unspecified technical problems, causing the North to suspend further talks on its disarmament.
China's nuclear envoy Wu Dawei said Wednesday the reactor shutdown deadline was unlikely to be met, citing a gap between the U.S. and North Korea over the money transfer and unspecified legal problems.
"There will be some impact," Wu told a group of Japanese reporters in Beijing when asked about the possibility of the deadline not being met because of the stalled money transfer, Japan's Kyodo News agency reported.
"It cannot be helped," Wu said.
South Korea's Foreign Minister Song Min-soon also said the money issue might not be resolved before the April 14 reactor deadline, according to South Korea's Yonhap news agency.
"I basically do believe that the (bank) issue can be resolved by the timeframe" set out in the Feb. 13 nuclear deal, Yonhap quoted Song as saying in India, where he was participating in a regional summit. "But we do consider the possibility that it will not be."
Song said U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told him in a telephone call earlier this week that there were technical difficulties, but she reaffirmed Washington's commitment to resolving the financial issue, Yonhap said.