North Korea Nuclear Talks Stall

Talks on North Korea's nuclear programs are at a standstill in Beijing, with North Korean negotiators refusing to attend a meeting of the heads of delegation. Diplomats say the North Koreans are demanding they first get back money that was frozen in a Macau bank. VOA's Luis Ramirez reports from Beijing.

The dispute over the nearly $25 million frozen by U.S. actions in a Macau bank has long been a stumbling block to the nuclear talks. But negotiators had hoped that a recent agreement clearing the way for the release of that money would allow them to move on to the far more important issue of denuclearization.

But Pyongyang says an agreement is not enough. It wants the cash in its hands before it continues with the six-nation talks.

Nori Shikata, a spokesman for the Japanese delegation, told VOA the Chinese hosts say North Korea is not talking until the money from Banco Delta Asia, or BDA, shows up in Pyongyang's bank account.

"After we had a meeting with the Chinese delegation, we heard that North Korea was taking the position that they will not take part in the heads of delegation meetings as long as they cannot confirm the transfer of the money from BDA," the spokesman explained.

U.S. officials this week announced the money would be released to a bank in Beijing, after they received North Korean assurances that the funds - which the U.S. alleged were obtained through counterfeiting and other illegal activities - would be used for humanitarian and educational purposes.

Macanese officials on Monday confirmed that they would send the funds to Beijing. But that could take several days.

The latest round of talks among China, Japan, North Korea, Russia, South Korea, and the United States began here on Monday.

China has been trying to keep the talks on track. At a regular briefing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao gave no hint of any problems at the six-party talks, and he urged all sides to stick to their commitments in the negotiations.

Liu says China hopes all parties can move forward in implementing a preliminary agreement reached by the six parties last month. He calls on all sides to honor the principle of action-for-action, and take concrete steps toward denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

The aim of this round is to evaluate the implementation of a February 13 agreement that calls for North Korea to shut down its main nuclear reactor and a plutonium factory, in exchange for energy aid and diplomatic concessions. The negotiators hope to leave with a timetable for the nuclear shutdown.