BEIJING, March 20 (RIA Novosti) - North Korea has refused to continue the six-party talks on its nuclear program until the $25 million frozen in a Macao bank is released, Russia's chief negotiator said Tuesday.
The accounts were blocked in September 2005 by the U.S. Department of the Treasury over alleged counterfeiting and money laundering. The United States agreed to unfreeze the reclusive Communist state's bank accounts prior to the new round of six-party talks in order to persuade North Korea to abandon nuclear research.
Progress at the talks, which have been ongoing since August 2003 and have involved Russia, South and North Korea, the United States, China, and Japan, has been stalled mostly over Pyongyang's disagreements with Washington and Tokyo.
Alexander Losyukov told Vesti TV channel Pyongyang will not participate in further discussion until it is convinced that the money frozen at BDA bank has been transferred to the Bank of China.
He also denied western media reports that North Korea has quit the talks.
"The North Korean delegation has not quit the talks," he said. "They are conducting behind the scene negotiations with other delegations."
South Korean sources in Beijing said North Korean funds from the frozen accounts will be transferred to the Bank of China March 21.
Under the U.S.-North Korean agreement, the money should be returned by the end of the current round of talks on Wednesday.
Losyukov also said the talks could end in deadlock over discussions on how to eliminate the nuclear weapons owned by North Korea.
"Our experts believe and I share their opinion that it is impossible to implement the agreements [on North Korea's nuclear disarmament] in 60 days given current developments," he said.
The previous round of North Korea talks in February yielded a breakthrough deal when Pyongyang agreed to shut down its reactor producing weapons-grade plutonium in exchange for energy aid, and a diplomatic compromise with the U.S. and Japan.
But North Korea's chief delegate Kim Kye Gwan warned the six-party agreements were fragile and the situation could be aggravated. He reiterated that his country would only suspend its Yongbyon reactor and let in IAEA inspectors after the bank accounts had been fully restored.
Losyukov said the procedure for IAEA inspections and the shutdown of North Korea's nuclear facilities have yet to be discussed.
He also said North Korea, which quit the UN nuclear watchdog in 1994, has no intention of restoring its membership to the International Atomic Energy Agency as IAEA inspectors are expected to check North Korea's nuclear disarmament. Under the IAEA regulations, such inspections are not possible for agency members.
Losyukov said he expected the United States to exclude North Korea from the list of rogue states, and North Korea to close down its nuclear facilities by the fall.
"It may all take a few months, but given intensive efforts, it could be achieved toward the fall," he said.
Under the February 13 agreement, the six negotiating nations set up five working groups, including two on North Korea's relations with the U.S. and Japan. All the five groups met ahead of the current negotiations on March 15-18.
North Korea conducted its ballistic missile launches in the summer and its first nuclear bomb tests in October, triggering international condemnation and UN and unilateral sanctions from Japan and South Korea.