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US Tells N Korea Funds at Bank Available
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The United States has told North Korea it can access funds that had been frozen at a Macao bank and urged Pyongyang to start shutting down its nuclear reactor and invite back international inspectors.

"We had over the weekend sent a message to North Korea to confirm that ... the accounts are open and therefore there is really nothing more we can be doing," US Assistant Secretary of State Chris Hill told reporters in Beijing on Sunday.

"It's their turn now, the ball is in their court."

Under the February 13 agreement by North Korea, South Korea, the United States, Japan, China and Russia, Pyongyang had 60 days to shut its nuclear facilities in return for energy aid.

But Pyongyang apparently missed the deadline on Saturday. It has insisted that it must first have access to millions of dollars in accounts at Macao's Banco Delta Asia that were frozen after the United States accused the bank of being involved in money laundering.

"Needless to say, we are not happy that North Korea essentially has missed this very important deadline," Hill said.

Hill reiterated that Washington was willing to wait a few days.

"The Chinese hosts asked us to be patient and hold on a few days, and we're quite prepared to do that. But clearly we have to be in close contact and see what our next steps are," Hill said.

North Korea had said on Friday it would soon check whether it could access about US$25 million in the Banco Delta Asia accounts.

It was not clear whether Pyongyang had already sought access to the money.

In Pyongyang, the official media made no mention of the deadline, dwelling on a huge ceremony marking the birthday of the late Kim Il-sung, founder of North Korea and father of the current leader, Kim Jong-il.

Earlier Sunday Hill said he had been talking with his counterparts in the six-party nuclear negotiations, including Japan and South Korea, and they had also agreed to give North Korea a few more days.

"We're not planning to issue any more deadlines, but I think the idea is to give this a few more days and see how it goes."

Pyongyang, which conducted is first nuclear test last October, has said it remains committed to implementing the February 13 denuclearization agreement.

Hill has said he expected negotiators for the six countries would likely meet again before the end of the month to discuss the next phases in disarming North Korea.

(China Daily via agencies April 16, 2007)

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