China urges patience on North Korea deadline D-day

BEIJING (Reuters) - China urged the United States on Saturday to show a bit more patience as North Korea appeared likely to miss a deadline to shut down a nuclear reactor.

A digitalglobe satellite image shows a nuclear facility in Yongbyon, North Korea September 29, 2004. North Korea said on Friday it may be ready to move in a stand-off over frozen assets it insists be unblocked before shutting down its nuclear reactor, one day before the first deadline of an atomic disarmament deal. REUTERS/Digital Globe

Under a multilateral deal struck on Feb, 13, Pyongyang agreed to shut down its Soviet-era Yongbyon plant within 60 days, but it seems it has not made good on that pledge because of millions of dollars frozen in North Korean accounts at a Macau bank.

The United States has said the funds have been unblocked and that they should no longer be an issue.

“We have reached our 60-day deadline and needless to say, this presents a concern that the deadline has not been met,” U.S. envoy Chris Hill said.

“The Chinese wanted us to show some patience for a couple of more days. There’s a sense that the communication lines are open and the North Koreans understand the fact that these accounts are accessible to them.”

Hill said he hoped for a resumption of six-party talks before the end of the month.

“I hate to predict the day it’s going to be resolved, except to say it should be resolved now.”

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Hill said there had been a big diplomatic push to end the crisis. “We’d like to see a similar level of effort from the DPRK -- a level of effort that, frankly, we haven’t been seeing,” Hill said, referring to North Korea by its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

North Korea said on Friday it would soon check whether it can access about $25 million in the accounts at Macau’s Banco Delta Asia, which were frozen after the United States accused the bank of being involved in money laundering.

It said it remained committed to the February 13 nuclear disarmament deal reached in the six-party talks grouping the two Koreas, the United States, Japan, Russia and host China.

North Korea, which conducted its first nuclear test last October, has insisted the Macau bank money must be freed before it will comply with the February agreement.

“The Chinese made very clear to us that they support the arrangements in Macau,” Hill said. “They support the decision of the Macau authorities to unblock the accounts.”

That deal called for it to shut down the Yongbyon plant by Saturday as a first step towards ending its nuclear program.

The State Department, which Hill said would issue a statement in Washington later in the day, appeared ready for North Korea missing the deadline and asked that it take steps to comply with the agreement, for example by inviting back international nuclear inspectors.