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     Mar 24, 2007
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North Koreans hungry for a deal
By Donald Kirk

WASHINGTON - North Korea appears unlikely to shut down its nuclear facilities within the 60-day time frame prescribed by the agreement signed on February 13 in Beijing, while upping the stakes in the great bargaining game for survival and power on the Korean Peninsula.

Chances for living up to the exact timing of the deal under which North Korea was to have closed the nuclear complex at Yongbyon, 100 kilometers north of the capital, by April 14 faded

fast after the country's nuclear envoy, Kim Kye-gwan, broke away from talks in Beijing this week and returned to Pyongyang.

Presumably Kim needs orders from the country's leader, Kim Jong-il - whether he sees him in person or gets the word indirectly is not known - in finally resolving the issue that held up the whole process for more than a year after the six parties at the talks had reached an "agreement in principle" on September 19, 2005, for North Korea to give up its nukes.

The immediate sticking point is clearly all-important to Kim Jong-il amid increasing anxieties about the terrible state of the economy and his ability to feed his people. North Korea wants the US$25 million in its frozen accounts at Banco Delta Asia in Macau before doing anything to fulfill the February 13 agreement.

The ruckus raised by North Korea over the $25 million appears incomprehensible to the other negotiators in Beijing, notably Christopher Hill, the chief US envoy to the talks, but it sets a precedent for more trouble ahead as Pyongyang addresses a range of issues.

Hill, the US assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, seemed frustrated but optimistic as usual as he claimed the talks were "still on schedule" after Kim Kye-gwan, vice minister of the North Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs, walked out of one meeting and failed to show up for another. The process, Hill said, was "still on schedule".

Diplomats were inclined to view the breakdown of the talks as a glitch that could be overcome whenever the $25 million in North Korea's accounts in Banco Delta Asia were transferred to a bank in Beijing, as demanded by Kim Kye-gwan, but the possibilities for more delays and glitches seemed endless.

Even if the funds wind up in the Bank of China, the question remains whether the international financial system will have anything to do with North Korea while banks and other institutions worry about their dealings in the United States. Another issue is whether North Korea after recovering the $25 million can resume doing business through Macau, the conduit for moving counterfeit US$100 bills before the US Treasury Department blacklisted Banco Delta Asia in late 2005.

Rising food shortages in North Korea, however, lead analysts to believe that the country is in no position to stay away from the talks for long - and is indeed willing to give up its nuclear program, including its 5-megawatt experimental reactor, after extracting as many concessions as possible.

The World Food Program as well as non-governmental agencies say North Korea is again in the throes of a food shortage in which many people are expected to die. Good Friends, headquartered in South Korea, reports starvation after a "poorer than expected" harvest last year. South Korea has promised to resume food and fertilizer shipments, cut off after the North test-fired seven missiles in July, but North Korea needs far more to meet its needs this year, according to the WFP.

In fact, analysts in Washington and at the United Nations in New York believe that North Korea by now is no longer interested in flaunting its nuclear strength - one reason it signed on to the deal to give up its nukes. A number of reports from North Korea indicate that it had been planning for some time to discontinue activities at the Yongbyon complex but is keeping it open for purposes of negotiations for food, fertilizer and other forms of aid.

Assuming the negotiators in Beijing somehow get past the question of the North Korean accounts in Macau, they will then

Continued 1 2 

North Korea hawks down but not out (Mar 14, '07)

Bush waves a white flag (Feb 16, '07)

Political battles just beginning (Feb 15, '07)

North Korea and the Politics of Famine
A four-part series by John Feffer (Sep ,06)


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