- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Diplomats involved in talks to end North Korea’s nuclear programs are discussing an extension of a mid-April deadline for Pyongyang to shut down its main reactor, citing the North’s financial dispute with Washington, U.S. and Asian officials said yesterday.

The discussions are still preliminary and private, they said, as the participants in the nuclear negotiations do not want to appear to be giving up on the initial deadline. A new date has yet to be chosen, and that is not likely to happen until all hope has been lost.

China was the first to warn that the North is not likely to turn off the Yongbyon plant by April 14, as agreed in a Feb. 13 deal.

“I believe it’s definite. It cannot be helped,” China’s nuclear envoy Wu Dawei was quoted by Japan’s Kyodo News agency as telling reporters in Beijing when asked about the prospect of the North missing the deadline.

“There will be some impact,” he said in reference to the transfer of $25 million in a Macao bank to the North Koreans, which has been delayed by the inability of the United States to find a bank willing to accept the funds on Pyongyang’s behalf.

The Treasury Department last month barred U.S. companies from dealing with Macao’s Banco Delta Asia (BDA), and banks fear similar punitive measures if they accept the North Korean money.

South Korean Foreign Minister Song Min-soon also issued a warning that the deadline may not be met, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.

“I basically do believe that the bank issue can be resolved by the time frame,” he said during a visit to India. “But we do consider the possibility that it will not be.”

In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack used the words “possible,” “should” and “hope” in reference to the six nations meeting their obligations in the February agreement.

But he stopped short of expressing confidence, as he and other U.S. officials did as recently as last week.

“We think that things are still on track, in the sense that there is great faith on all sides to work through any obstacles,” Mr. McCormack said.

Privately, diplomats indicated that discussing an extension of the deadline is logical and even necessary at this point, given the unexpected complications of the $25 million transfer.

Still, they insisted that the objectives of the nuclear deal will be achieved, with one diplomat saying that, if six countries could agree on the initial deadline, they should easily be able to agree on extending it. In addition to the United States and North Korea, the other countries are China, Japan, South Korea and Russia.

A U.S. delegation led by Daniel Glaser, the Treasury’s deputy assistant secretary for terrorist financing and financial crimes, has been negotiating the transfer with Chinese and North Korean officials in Beijing for 10 days.

After the Treasury blacklisted BDA last month, Washington allowed for the money to be transferred from Macao to a special account at the Bank of China and only be used for humanitarian purposes — a move aimed at preventing North Korean officials from using it for personal needs.


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