The financial dispute that North Korea used as an excuse for not fulfilling its obligations under a six-party talks accord has reportedly been resolved. Although the North extended an invitation to a delegation of the International Atomic Energy Agency, it must now speedily carry out the steps of the “initial action phase” under the Feb. 13 accord, which includes shutting down and sealing the Yongbyon nuclear facility within 60 days. Four months have already passed since the accord was adopted and two months have passed since the deadline for completing the steps.
On March 19, the United States announced that $25 million in North Korea-linked funds frozen at Banco Delta Asia in Macau would be released. The funds had been frozen because of their suspected connection with North Korean illicit activities such as money laundering and the counterfeiting of U.S. dollar bills. The U.S. move came after its financial sanctions against the North had held up the six-party talks for more than a year.
The U.S. expected that the announcement would quickly solve the impasse in the talks. But North Korea insisted that the funds be transferred to another bank. At first, the funds were to be transferred from Banco Delta Asia to a North Korean account in the Bank of China in Beijing. But the latter did not cooperate, fearful of having to deal with the Macau bank, which has been blacklisted and prohibited from dealing with U.S. banks. Other banks did not cooperate, either.
In a major concession, the U.S. decided to have the funds transferred by way of the New York Federal Reserve and Russia’s central bank to a commercial bank in Russia’s Far East where North Korea hold bank accounts. This shows that the U.S. was determined to solve the North Korean nuclearization issue even at the cost of letting the North’s suspicious money going through the Federal Reserve system.
Pyongyang must faithfully live up to the earlier obligation of shutting down the nuclear facility as soon as it receives the funds. The U.S. and other members of the six-party talks must do their best to have the North move to the next phase.
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