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Last Updated: Friday, 23 March 2007, 06:20 GMT
N Korea talks 'may soon restart'
Christopher Hill speaks to journalists, 22/03/07
Christopher Hill still hopes the deal is on track
The US negotiator at six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear programme says discussions may soon restart, despite their abrupt suspension on Thursday.

Christopher Hill said talks could resume in a few weeks, when the North had received the funds it is demanding.

Thursday's talks broke up without agreement after Pyongyang refused to negotiate until it recovered $25m of assets held in a Macau bank.

The delay is a setback for a recent disarmament deal agreed last month.

The deal involves several strict deadlines, with the North promising to "shut down and seal" it reactor and let in UN inspectors, and the six nations involved promising to deliver 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil, by 14 April.

Analysts say there is still probably enough time for all sides to keep to the deadline, but timescales are getting increasingly tight.

Transfer delay

The six nations involved in the talks - both Koreas, the US, Japan, Russia and China - gathered in Beijing on Monday with the aim of fine-tuning the 13 February deal.

But discussions never really got off the ground because of a dispute over the transfer of funds from a Macau bank account.

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The US announced on Monday that the North Korean money - worth $25m (13m) - would be transferred from Macau's Banco Delta Asia (BDA) to a bank in China, as Washington had completed an investigation into money-laundering allegations.

But the transfer could not happen immediately, and Pyongyang insisted that it wanted to have the money transferred to a North Korean account in China before continuing to discuss the next steps in the disarmament plan. Thursday's talks therefore came to a grinding halt, and even before the Chinese hosts had officially announced a recess, chief North Korean negotiator Kim Kye-gwan had flown out of Beijing.

But despite the frustration at the delay, several delegates emphasised on Friday that the deal was still on track.

Before leaving Beijing, Mr Hill said it was "quite possible" the talks could start again within a week or two.

"As soon as we get this bank transfer done, we probably will put out heads together and decide whether we need to have another six-party meeting," he told reporters.

South Korea's envoy, Chun Yung-woo, said the key issue was not the date of the next talks, but whether North Korea stuck to the agreed timetable.

But there is still a rocky road ahead. Even if all sides meet the 14 April deadline, there are many challenges that need to be addressed at the next step of the agreement.

In the second phase, for which no time limit has yet been set, North Korea must declare and disable all of its nuclear programmes in exchange for 950,000 more tons of oil or equivalent aid.

There is also the issue of an alleged uranium enrichment programme, in addition to the plutonium programme at Yongbyon, which the North denies exists.

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