Sunday, April 22, 2007

Not Making Nice And North Korea

For those of you not following the matter closely, this may come as a surprise. North Korea, of the 'Axis of Evil', has not shut down its nuclear facilities as it has agreed to. Yesterday was the date agreed to.

The February agreement hinged on the release of its funds held in Macao banks. The funds have been released, though there is some argument there. The funds were not released when they were supposed to be, and North Korea has said there is not the access they preferred.

A nuclear disarmament deal is on the verge of being crippled on Thursday, with North Korea falling short of taking steps for denuclearization just a couple of days ahead of the weekend deadline amid a dispute over the release of its funds frozen at a Macau bank.

The North's US$25 million held at Banco Delta Asia (BDA) has been available to access by the North Korean holders since Tuesday, when Macau's financial authorities decided to "unblock" the funds.

"I think we have come to a very important juncture which is we consider this BDA matter to be really resolved," Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, Washington's chief nuclear negotiator, told reporters in Seoul Wednesday.

"Now the DPRK needs to assess the information and presumably check with their bankers to see their access to the accounts," Hill said, referring to the North's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

The U.S. diplomat is on a three-nation trip that will also take him to China. He has extended by one day his visit to Seoul that was to end Thursday. Many believe he extended his trip because his hope to arrange a meeting with his North Korean counterparts in Beijing was not realized.

Seoul and Washington are doing everything to prepare a soft landing should the Saturday deadline for the North to shut down its nuclear facilities be missed. But they both agree it will put the overall schedule of disabling the North's nuclear facilities off track unless changes start to take place on ground before the deadline.

Under the nuclear agreement signed in Beijing on Feb. 13, North Korea has to shut down its key nuclear facilities, including its only operational 5-megawatt reactor, and have the closure verified by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) monitors in 60 days, which is this Saturday.

Foreign Minister Song Min-soon tried to put as little weight as possible on the importance of meeting the deadline, saying a missed deadline means little as long as North Korea has the will to see the agreement through and that it does.

"What is important is not whether the (deadline) date expires or not, but whether we can firmly implement the measures and move on to the next phase based on that," Song told a regular press briefing Wednesday.

"The desirable thing is (for the initial denuclearization measures to be) implemented before April 14. The countries are doing their utmost to this end," he added.

Others are less optimistic as a missed deadline would inevitably lead to a delay in a second -- and more important -- phase of the Feb. 13 agreement, under which the North is called to disable its nuclear facilities and declare a complete list of all its nuclear programs in exchange for 1 million tons of heavy fuel oil or equivalent aid.

The energy-for-denuclearization deal does not state an end date for the second disablement phase, but the top U.S. nuclear envoy has expressed hope to draw up a timeline "that will get us through disablement in this calendar year in 2007."
"Obviously the (60-day) deadline is important. We set up the deadline for a purpose," Hill said Tuesday.

"Clearly, if we don't get denuclearization, we are going to have problems on other tracks as well."
U.S. and South Korean officials confirmed Thursday that they have yet to hear any response from North Korea on the Macanese financial authorities' decision.

Chun Yung-woo, Seoul's top nuclear negotiator, said it "could take a few days" for North Korea to realize the funds are now available, without offering a view on whether the communist state would consider the funds' availability as a resolution of the banking issue.

"It's time for North Korea to move. Before North Korea moves, there's nothing we can do," the South Korean told reporters after a near two-hour meeting with his U.S. counterpart Hill at a Seoul hotel.

North Korea had previously demanded the money be released to it via an account at a Chinese bank, a transaction that would have proved to North Korea that it funds can still move freely within the international banking system.

Washington has apparently failed to arrange the proposed transaction due to what it had called "minor technical problems."

Discussions to set a timeline for the disablement phase have yet to take place as North Korea walked out of the six-nation nuclear talks held in Beijing last month, demanding resolution of the BDA issue.

I don't like to post long quotes like this, but you will not see this in your local news. A South Korean negotiator came to D.C. today to talk about this in the U.S.

You may see a reference to that in your local news. But the nuclear facilities are buzzing along merrily. We haven't impressed North Korea that we are doing our part, and since the present maladministration has attacked them without provocation by naming them as part of the "Axis of Evil", there has been no inclination on their part to make nice with us. Unsurprisingly, attacking a country that has not been on the offense against us is not a smart thing to do, and occasions real consequences.

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