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The United States and Macau authorities announced Wednesday that $25 million of North Korea-linked funds that had been frozen at Banco Delta Asia would be released. When the U.S. first announced in March, during the six-party talks in Beijing, that the funds would be released, it was considering a scheme in which the funds would be transferred first to a North Korean account in the Bank of China in Beijing. The U.S. at that time also limited the use of the funds to humanitarian activities and education.

Now, however, North Korea will be able to withdraw or transfer the money unconditionally. This is a great concession on the part of the U.S., which had imposed financial sanctions against the North after alleging that the funds were connected with illicit North Korean activities including money laundering.

North Korea had refused to move forward in fulfilling its obligation under the Feb. 13 six-party accord unless it received the $25 million. Now that the funds are free to use, it is North Korea’s turn to carry out its steps with sincerity in the “initial action phase” under the accord, which includes inviting back International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors and shutting down and sealing the Yongbyon nuclear facility within 60 days.

According to New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who went to North Korea to bring back the remains of six American soldiers, the North said that, within a day of receiving the funds, it would invite the IAEA inspectors to draw up terms for shutting down the Yongbyon reactor. He also reported the North as saying it will take 30 days to shut down the reactor. Under the six-party accord, April 14 was the deadline for the initial-action phase steps. North Korea must move quickly.

While unblocking the Banco Delta Asia funds may have the effect of accelerating the denuclearization process in North Korea, it also may have the effect of emboldening the North to raise the ante and try to force the U.S. to make more concessions. The U.S. Japan, China, South Korea and Russia must strongly unite to achieve the final goal — to make North Korea abandon its nuclear weapons and nuclear-weapons programs.

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