THE WASHINGTON TIMES Chief U.S. negotiator Christopher Hill, back in Washington after the first high-level U.S. visit to North Korea in five years, yesterday outlined an ambitious agenda for the rest of the year that includes talks on a permanent peace treaty and the birth of a multinational security organization for Northeast Asia.
Mr. Hill's comments came as the North confirmed it had received $25 million from a previously frozen bank account in Macao — the reason given for delaying the closure of its main nuclear reactor as agreed in a Feb. 13 deal with the U.S. and four other countries.
"If all goes well, we would hope that, by the end of the calendar year '07, we will have the [Yongbyon nuclear] facility shut down and disabled. We would have a peace process — peace mechanism talks under way in the Korean Peninsula," Mr. Hill told reporters at the State Department.
"We will have had a six-party ministerial and a way charted that would lead to some kind of Northeast Asian security process, a means by which countries in the region can really talk to each other in a multilateral forum," he said.
Mr. Hill, who is also assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, said he was "proceeding with the assumption" that the North Koreans are serious about dismantling their nuclear weapons program.
He said he expects the Yongbyon reactor to be shut down in the next two weeks, and a six-nation meeting to take place during the second week of July in Beijing.
He said he preferred the reactor be closed by then so it is not the main topic at the talks, which he said should focus on preparing a meeting of the foreign ministers from the six countries — the United States, South and North Korea, China, Japan and Russia in late July or early August.
In July, Mr. Hill told The Washington Times that he would not go to the North before Yongbyon is shut down. Yesterday, he said he thought about that when considering a visit last week, but he and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice decided it was important to go at this time.
He also predicted that the most difficult part of the denuclearization process will be the North's producing a full declaration of its nuclear programs, materials and facilities, including an effort to enrich uranium.
"We are not reaching any deal unless this is resolved," he said in reference to the highly enriched uranium program, which Washington says Pyongyang was secretly developing while under a 1994 agreement not to produce plutonium.
Both elements can be used to make nuclear weapons.
Mr. Hill said he did not raise humanitarian and human rights issues during his first visit to the reclusive state.
The Foreign Ministry in Pyongyang issued a statement yesterday through the official Korean Central News Agency confirming that the dispute over the frozen bank funds was no longer an obstacle and that inspectors from the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) could visit North Korea.
"As the funds that had been frozen at Macao's Banco Delta Asia have been transferred as we demanded, the troublesome issue of the frozen funds is finally resolved," the statement said. "As part of that, there will be discussions with [IAEA] delegates on June 26 in Pyongyang on shutting down nuclear facilities and inspections and monitoring."
IAEA inspectors are expected to arrive today.
The $25 million was frozen by the bank in 2005 after the Treasury Department alerted its management that the North Korean and other accounts there were linked to illicit activities, including counterfeiting U.S. dollars and money laundering.
Earlier this year, the Treasury blacklisted the bank and lifted its objection to releasing the funds. It took months to find another bank to accept the money, as all approached institutions in several countries feared U.S. penalties. A deal was finally reached with a Russian bank.