Talks on North Korean funds not completed

There is still no final decision on whether to put North Korean funds, which had been frozen in a Macau bank account, back in Pyongyang's hands, according to the ITAR-Tass news agency.

Restoring access to the funds has been North Korea's key condition for taking steps to fulfill a nuclear disarmament pledge. Russia's chief negotiator in talks on Pyongyang's nuclear program had been quoted as saying Thursday that they would be transferred to a Russian bank in which Pyongyang has an account.

But no Russian bank has publicly acknowledged receiving the funds or even an official request to do so, and the ITAR-Tass report suggested their transfer was not a done deal.

"Consultations among specialists from the interested sides have not yet been completed, as certain technical questions require clarification," the agency quoted an unidentified ministry official as saying.

The Foreign Ministry declined to comment immediately, demanding a written request for comment.

Some US$25 million (EUR18.6 million) in North Korean accounts have been frozen at Macau's Banco Delta Asia since 2005, when the U.S. blacklisted the bank for allegedly helping the Pyongyang regime pass fake US$100 bills and launder money from weapons sales.

The North made the money's release its main condition for disarmament and boycotted international nuclear talks for more than a year, during which it conducted its first-ever atomic bomb test in October. Russia is among the participants in the six-nation talks.

To win the North's promise to start dismantling its nuclear program, the U.S. agreed to give its blessing for the money to be freed and said it would happen within 30 days. The transfer has instead taken more than four months, as the North insisted that it be sent electronically to another bank, apparently to prove the money is now clean.

Several media reports have said the money would be sent through the U.S. Federal Reserve branch in New York before arriving in North Korean accounts in Russia's Far East.

Alexander Losyukov, Russia's chief negotiator at the six-nation talks, said Thursday that a Russian bank in the Far East would be used to transfer the money from Macao, the Russian news agency Interfax reported. He did not name the bank, but said that Washington had given written guarantees that the bank would not be subjected to sanctions - a chief concern earlier aired by Russia officials.

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