US, N. Korea Resolve Dispute Over Frozen Funds

The government of Macau says it will release $25 million of North Korean funds that had been frozen in a Macau bank. VOA's Luis Ramirez reports from Beijing that earlier U.S. officials announced they resolved their dispute with North Korea over the funds at the start of a new round of nuclear disarmament talks.

Diplomats hailed the resolution of the financial dispute. They said it cleared the way for delegates from six nations to move ahead with the process of getting North Korea to dismantle its nuclear-weapons program.

A U.S. Treasury official in charge of money laundering and terrorist financing cases said $25 million in frozen funds are to be deposited in a bank in Beijing, after the North Koreans promised to use the money for humanitarian and educational purposes.

The Monetary Authority of Macau issued a statement saying it would release the funds.

The Chief U.S. negotiator in the six-party talks, Christopher Hill, said now is the time to move on with the negotiations.

"We feel this matter has been resolved and now we can move to the problem, of which there are many," he said.

The Macau government froze the funds during an 18-month U.S. investigation of Banco Delta Asia. Washington says the small Macau bank facilitated North Korean laundering of money obtained from counterfeiting of currency and cigarettes, drug trafficking and other illegal activities.

After the funds were frozen, North Korea boycotted the nuclear talks with China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States for more than a year. Pyongyang returned to the negotiating table in December, and a preliminary disarmament agreement was reached February 13th.

In the accord, North Korea agreed to shut down and seal its main nuclear reactor and plutonium factory by mid-April in exchange for energy aid and diplomatic concessions. Later steps are to lead to nuclear disarmament.

At the end of the first day of talks, U.S. envoy Christopher Hill said that it is time to move on to the core issue of denuclearization.

"The real issue will be to start organizing that second phase so that we can get to full declaration of North Korea's nuclear programs and the issue of disabling their programs," added Hill. "I really think it is a complex thing we are trying to do, but I think we are pretty much on schedule as of today."

Pyongyang had said it would not stop the reactor until the frozen funds were released. The U.S. Treasury announced the end of its investigation of the Macau bank last week, but had insisted any decision on the funds rested with authorities in Macau, a special administrative region of China.