North Korea has finally received millions of dollars at the heart of a dispute that stalled nuclear disarmament negotiations, and must quickly shut down its only reactor, the U.S. envoy to the negotiations said Tuesday.
About $25 million in North Korean funds were frozen in a Macau bank blacklisted by the United States over allegations of money-laundering and other financial crimes. The financial dispute halted nuclear negotiations for more than a year, and the U.S. approved the release of the money this year to help end the standoff.
“My understanding is that today it was deposited in a North Korean account in Russia,” U.S. envoy Christopher Hill told reporters in Tokyo.
“I think this is the time when everyone needs to kind of quicken the pace and work very hard” toward disarmament, he said. “We’re going to really have to pick up the pace if we’re to get back on our timelines.”
Hill told reporters that the transfer involved “the total amount” of disputed North Korean funds, and said it was “something like $23 million.”
It was not clear why the amount was different from previously reported.
Hill, on a regional tour to Beijing, Seoul and Tokyo, had said he hoped to see a shutdown “within weeks, not months.”
Russia’s Interfax-China news agency cited an unidentified North Korean official on Monday as saying Pyongyang plans to shut down the reactor in the second half of July.
The International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, plans to send inspectors to North Korea next week, possibly as early as Monday, to discuss how to monitor and verify the shutdown of the Yongbyon nuclear reactor, as agreed to by Pyongyang under a February agreement.
Hill said he said he has been in contact with the IAEA and it understands the “need to move quickly.”
Under a deal reached in Beijing with China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States, North Korea had pledged to shut down the reactor by the middle of April. No new deadline was set, however, after Pyongyang missed the first deadline due to the banking dispute.
South Korean officials said, meanwhile, that North Korea had fired a short-range missile toward waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan but the test — the third since late May — would not hinder the disarmament negotiations.
The officials said the range of the missile was about 62 miles and the launch was believed to be part of “routine drills.”
North Korea has fired a short-range missile towards the Sea of Japan, public broadcaster NHK said on Tuesday.
Quoting a Japanese government source, NHK said one missile was fired earlier in the day, adding that it was not a ballistic missile.
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