Top Russian diplomat: Transfer of North Korean funds to be completed Friday

The transfer of US$25 million (euro18.7 million) in North Korean funds that had been frozen by the U.S. will be completed Friday, a senior Russian diplomat said, clearing the way for progress in the dispute over the North's nuclear program.

"The money transfer is to be conducted today," Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Losyukov said, according to the ITAR-Tass news agency.

The money is going to a North Korean account at a Russian bank, Russian officials have said.

Restoring access to the funds has been North Korea's key condition for taking steps to fulfill a nuclear disarmament pledge.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, Washington's chief nuclear envoy to North Korea, said Tuesday that the money already had been deposited in the account and that the case was closed.

Losyukov said Friday, however, that the transfer had yet to be completed after delays caused by technical difficulties.

In February, North Korea committed itself to shutting down its main nuclear fuel processing facility, the Yongbyon reactor, by mid-April after the U.S. promised to free the US$25 million in allegedly illicit North Korean funds.

Hill said Friday that North Korea is prepared to promptly carry out a pledge to shut down its main nuclear reactor, but warned that the country's complete denuclearization will not be easy. Hill, spoke to reporters following his return from a brief, surprise trip to North Korea, where he held talks with the country's chief nuclear negotiator and foreign minister.

North Korea, which carried out its first nuclear test explosion in October last year, expelled International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors in 2002.