- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 17, 2007

SEOUL — Intelligence officials reported increased activity yesterday around North Korea’s main nuclear reactor, indicating the country may be preparing to uphold its agreement to shut down the plant.

North Korea missed Saturday’s deadline for shuttering the reactor because of a dispute over $25 million in North Korean deposits frozen in a bank blacklisted by Washington. The funds were purportedly linked to money laundering and counterfeiting.

The owner of Banco Delta Asia in the Chinese territory of Macao, Stanley Au, insisted the money had been unblocked. He noted however that North Korea had made no withdrawals from the bank “because they cannot transfer the money out.”

“There are no banks accepting the so-called ‘black money,’ ” Mr. Au told the Associated Press. “The only thing they can do at the moment is to take the money in bank notes out of the bank.”

North Korea promised the United States and four other nations in February to dismantle its nuclear programs in return for energy aid and political concessions.

North Korea’s Yongbyon reactor remained in operation yesterday, but there was a high possibility that movement of cars and people at the site recorded in satellite photos could be linked to a shutdown, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported, citing an unnamed intelligence official. The Dong-a Ilbo newspaper carried a similar report. Yonhap cited another unnamed intelligence official as saying that South Korea and the United States have been closely monitoring some movements since a month ago.

“The intensity of these activities has increased from about a week or two ago,” the official was quoted as saying. “There are activities other than cars and people moving busily.”

But the United States said yesterday it had received no formal notification that North Korea was taking steps to shut down the reactor, and State Department spokesman Sean McCormack declined to comment about what U.S. intelligence might be seeing at the nuclear site.

Mr. McCormack said the United States was willing to give North Korea “a little bit more time” to act on its pledge to shut down the reactor because of technical issues that have delayed the transfer of North Korean funds frozen at the Macao bank.

“We’re being flexible,” he said.

A North Korean decision to shut down the reactor would be its first move toward stopping its nuclear program since 2002, when the latest nuclear standoff began. The North is thought to have produced as many as a dozen atomic bombs since then, and conducted an underground nuclear test in October.

South Korean Foreign Minister Song Min-soon spoke by telephone yesterday with his U.S. counterpart, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and the two “strongly expressed expectations that North Korea will soon implement disarmament measures,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Mr. Song and Miss Rice “reaffirmed that the door to resolving the [bank] issue is clearly open to North Korea,” the statement said.

China said yesterday that it hoped the bank dispute would be resolved and progress made on disarming the North.

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