U.S.-North Korea talks went well, says U.S. negotiator

According to a transcript sent out by email from the U.S. Mission in Geneva, the U.S. found that its face-to-face talks with a North Korean delegation went well. Here are selected excerpts:

I think we reached, I think, a substantial understanding between the two of us on what needs to be accomplished in the months ahead and what the overall parameters are for what we’re trying to achieve. This next phase — which has to do with disablement and declaration on the DPRK side and fuel oil and economic and energy assistance, as well as some bilateral considerations on our part — is of course a very critical phase. But I think we have an understanding of the way forward, and I think we will be able to go into the Six-Party plenary when we have it, depending on when the Chinese can schedule it. I believe it will be in the middle of September.

I do anticipate that at the next plenary session we will have a February style-agreement, which would be aimed at having a more detailed implementation plan for disablement and the other factors that I just mentioned …

All in all I think it was a very substantive discussion today, one of the most substantive we’ve had.  We discussed all of the aspects, all the issues that we needed to discuss. But we have, I think, much more to discuss.

And we will get going again at dinner and then tomorrow morning at the DPRK mission…
Continue reading U.S.-North Korea talks went well, says U.S. negotiator

U.S. and North Korean negotiators meeting in Geneva

The exact and up-to-the minute state of play between the U.S. and North Korea was described to journalists in Geneva, Switzerland on Friday by U.S. negotiator Christopher Hill (Assistant U.S. Secretary of State) speaking on the eve of a two-day round of direct talks hosted by the Swiss government.

Did Hill really mean it when he said [see below] that “nuclear weapons really need to be done away with”? (see below)

OK, the truth is, this is a selective and edited quote. Hill might have been suffering from jet lag, and boredom at some of the journalists questions … or maybe he really was choosing his words with precision, because what he said was actually: “these nuclear weapons really need to be done away with.”

Maybe he meant exactly what he said — that North Korean “nuclear weapons really need to be done away with”, and not all nuclear weapons (as called for by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty or NPT, to which the U.S. is a party, but from which North Korea withdrew).

That is, of course, if the North Koreans actually have nuclear weapons, as they have recently suggested, though perhaps only as a negotiating prod, during the dragged-out efforts to release frozen North Korean funds held in the Banco Delta Asia of Macao – a bank that is under China’s ultimate control.

Hill was speaking at the Hotel de la Paix in Geneva, Switzerland:

“This will be a two-day meeting of the U.S. – DPRK working group. This is in the fram ework of five working groups that are called for in the February ’07 agreement. For us it’s an important working group because it allows us to really prepare for the next plenary session, Six-Party plenary session, and I think it also allows the U.S. and DPRK to make progress on our relationship…
Continue reading U.S. and North Korean negotiators meeting in Geneva

North Korean funds at last released – at least partly …

Where have we heard this before?

The Associated Press is reporting that “North Korea on Saturday sent a letter to the U.N. nuclear watchdog, inviting inspectors to the country to discuss procedures for shutting down its main nuclear reactor, state media reported. The letter to the International Atomic Energy Agency noted “that a working-level delegation of the IAEA has been invited to visit (North Korea) as it is confirmed that the process of de-freezing the funds of (North Korea) at the Banco Delta Asia in Macau has reached its final phase,” the North’s Korean Central News Agency reported. The inspectors were invited for “discussions of the procedures of the IAEA’s verification and monitoring of” shutting down its Yongbyon reactor, the report said. North Korea had refused to act on its February pledge to disarm until it got access to $25 million once frozen in a U.S.-blacklisted Macau bank. The U.S. accused Banco Delta Asia of helping North Korea’s government pass fake $100 bills and launder money…”
Read news story here.

Earlier Saturday, AP had reported that “North Korean funds that have held up a nuclear disarmament pact were in Russia on Saturday but technical problems were delaying final transfer to the country’s accounts there, U.S. nuclear envoy Christopher Hill said…’I heard that the money was transferred, it’s in Russia, and they’re having some technical problems in getting it to the bank where the actual North Korean accounts are’, said Hill, who added that the next round of six-party nuclear disarmament talks could be held in early July. The envoy did not provide details of the technical problem, which he said the U.S. side first learned about from the North Koreans. North Korea has refused to act on its February pledge to shut down its nuclear reactor until it gets access to $25 million once frozen in a U.S.-blacklisted Macau bank. On Thursday, Macau’s chief finance official said the money had been transferred from the bank, but it remained unclear if the entire amount had moved or whether it reached its destination. Officials knowledgeable about the transfer have said more than $23 million was involved but that the transaction was not complete …
After the North Koreans receive the funds, the next round of talks are expected to convene in China in early July.
Read this news dispatch here.

China Matters says that the plan was to remit the North Korean funds out of Banco Delta Asia through a Russian bank and the Federal Reserve…”there are a lot of allegations of North Korean criminal behavior but as far as I know nobodyÂ’s gotten around to convicting a North Korean entity or individual for an underlying crime that would establish the legal basis for classifying the handling of the BDA funds as “money laundering””.

The U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said at the U.S. State Dept briefing on Friday that: “Certainly, we’re going to be looking for the North Koreans to implement the February 13th agreement. The other five parties will look to hold up their end of the bargain. And I think if we can get some momentum going here, we will have another round of the six-party talks. We may even use another meeting to try to generate that momentum … But the important thing here is that the North Koreans, as well as the five, get working on the February 13th agreement and we’ll be looking to the North Koreans to see what actions they take once this financial transaction has been completed”…

North Korea's money still not transferred – so no deal yet

The latest reports from the Koreas say that South Korea is refusing to send food aid to North Korea until it shuts down the nuclear reactor as promised. But, this is awaiting U.S. freeing of frozen North Korean funds.

AP reports that: “North Korea’s No. 2 leader, Kim Yong Nam, affirmed the North’s intentions to shut the reactor down, but only after a dispute over frozen assets is resolved. At issue is North Korea’s desire to reclaim funds from a Macau bank that was blacklisted by the U.S. in 2005. North Korea’s money was freed earlier this year, but the North has not withdrawn it, apparently seeking to receive it through a bank wire transfer to prove the funds are now clean. The U.S. had alleged the funds were tied to money laundering and counterfeiting. Kim Yong Nam said Washington has not explained the hold up in the transfer…

Read full news report here.

Yes, why is North Korean cash still blocked?

China Hand savages John Bolton’s recent opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal denouncing resolution of the stand-off with North Korea, in his (he has to be a guy) blog, China Matters.

China Hand says that: “The rhetorical reed he leans on is that resolving BDA [Banco Delta Asia — remember, where frozen North Korean funds were supposed to be returned so that North Korea would dismantle its nuclear program and there would be peace in the region…]was not part of the original agreement, the North Koreans are renegotiating, the State Department is caving, (I’m paraphrasing here) Chamberlain, rolled umbrella, appeasement, blah, blah, blah. Bolton writes: ‘… we now face the nagging question whether there are other secret side deals beyond BDA. Of course, the BDA agreement was not so secret that Kim Jong Il was barred from knowing about it, by definition. Most troubling, however, is that State apparently thought it too sensitive to share with the American people until the February deal broke down in an unavoidably public way’. (John R. Bolton, Pyongyang’s Perfidy, Wall Street Journal, May 18,2007). The first, surprising point, is the incoherent statement ‘the BDA agreement was not so secret that Kim Jong Il was barred from knowing about it…’

“…by definition…”

Continue reading Yes, why is North Korean cash still blocked?

The unravelling of U.S. "financial diplomacy" against North Korea

China Hand is reporting that “According to a diplomatic source, North Korea is nearly done combining the money from its 52 accounts in BDA [Banco Delta Asia in Macao] into a single one ready for transfer. The epic issue hit the latest snag when, after the U.S. gave the green light to unfreezing the funds, no bank in the world proved willing to receive the funds ... The U.S. has already reassured countries concerned that the transfer will be an exception from its blanket ban on transactions with BDA”.

China Hand writes that — after North Korea tried but apparently didn’t succeed in getting a NY bank account to deposit its funds into — now South Korea may be preparing to accept the North Korean funds, in order to bring this episode to a conclusion — and China Hand adds that this would probably indicate that “the United States has finally capitulated 100% and issued the waiver on accepting BDA money that, as I wrote on April 8, [U.S. Deputy Assistant Treasury Secretary] Daniel Glaser should have granted during the ten days he spent in Beijing in late March–early April accomplishing, apparently, nothing. This involves more than seven weeks and counting of wasted time (from March 14, the date that the BDA matter was supposed to be ‘resolved’) … it makes our diplomacy look at best unreliable and at worst duplicitous”.
Continue reading The unravelling of U.S. "financial diplomacy" against North Korea

The continuing saga of wise-guy behavior concerning N. Korean money

China Hand has posted on Chinamatters blog, a “parsing” of the explanation in the delay concerning the release of North Korean funds in Banco Delta Asia — the release of which is the essential prerequisite, North Korea says, for closing down its nuclear reactor, as agreed months ago in six-party talks.

Apparently, because there are 52 North Korean accounts that were frozen in Banco Delta Asia, signatures from each account holder are necessary to release the money back to North Korea in a single “lump sum”, but not all account holders are happy about this idea, China Hand writes:

Friday, May 04, 2007 – BDA: The Beat Goes On…and On...

” … I’m not surprised that North Korea is ‘having difficulty getting the necessary signatures to release the funds’.

Especially since one of the signatures they will presumably need is Colin McAskill’s, since his group purchased the Daedong Credit Bank. About $8 million in Daedong’s accounts were frozen when Treasury announced its Patriot Act Section 311 action.

Pushing for a logical resolution to the BDA mess, McAskill had wanted the legitimacy of his accounts confirmed, and acknowledgement that he could move the money without restriction or fear of potential sanctions for whatever bank handled the funds.

From the April 15 International Herald Tribune:

Colin McAskill, a British businessman who represents Daedong Credit Bank in negotiations over its frozen funds, said he would insist on using legitimate banking channels to shift money from the newly freed account. ‘I am not going to stand in a queue behind other North Koreans with a suitcase and try to move it’, McAskill said. ‘We will move it through the banking system’.

Good luck with that, Colin.

The point at issue here seems to be that the United States does not want the BDA settlement to signal a breakdown in U.S. efforts to impose an international financial embargo on North Korea”…
Continue reading The continuing saga of wise-guy behavior concerning N. Korean money

U.S. accepts China's wisdom on North Korea – and will be patient for a few more days

After Saturday’s “deadline” for North Korea to shut down its nuclear reactor at Yongbyon had come and gone, a U.S. Senior State Department Official in Washington said, on background, during a conference call with journalists on Saturday afternoon, that it would be reasonable to wait at least until after Kim Il Sung’s birthday on Sunday before getting upset.

The Senior Official also conceded that, from the other side, there had also been delays in releasing North Korean funds from a Macao Bank. Here are excerpts from her remarks:

“[O]ur patience is not an infinite supply. But we feel that given the kind of unexpected complexities that did arise in connection with some of the banking issues, that it’s probably prudent to give this thing a few more days …

“[T]he Chinese think that with a little bit of patience and coordination among the parties that despite the fact that we’ve reached our 60-day deadline and that we obviously have a concern that the deadline has not been met that this is still do-able. And so I think that there will be some very close consultations over the next few days to really try and get that done.

“[T]he Chinese believe, as I was mentioning earlier, that we need to show a little patience, but promised that they would be in very close touch with us and with the other partners in the coming days. And make clear — that all of us would make clear to, as we have tried to do in our statement, that we think the time is here for the DPRK to move forward with shutting down Yongbyon … we’re just a little delayed in the timing here and we’re going to try to work with the partners in the next few days to get it back on track.

“Well, I mean — I think we’re not interested in somehow negotiating, you know, a new deadline. I think our aim here now is, as I mentioned, without establishing an exact deadline here, to say within the coming days, and I think it is a matter of days, to get real movement. Now, you know, how long it takes to get Yongbyon shutdown and sealed is something we need to be in consultation with the IAEA about. But we want to see the initial actions of the 60 days completed as quickly as possible … what we’re saying is some of this took a little bit longer than we thought and we hoped it would. So what we’re going to focus on now is just getting it done as quickly as we possibly can.

“The 60 days has passed and a number of things that were supposed to happen did happen, but a number of things that were supposed to happen haven’t happened yet. But, you know, I think we made a good start in some areas. This — the BDA issue did turn out to be far more complex, far more technical, I think than any side had anticipated and it’s going to take us a few more days to get to where we wanted to be today.

“I think what I’d really point to, as I said, is what the North Koreans have said publicly on April 13th, which did recommit them and obviously is quoted in Sean’s statement to implementing their part of the February 13th agreement. You know, I mean, they’re suspicious. And tomorrow, as I understand, is Kim Il Sung’s birthday. It’s a Sunday. I mean, I’m not trying to say this didn’t happen because it’s a weekend and because it happened to fall on Kim Il Sung’s birthday but, you know, here we are, it’s Saturday and I’d like to be able to say to you that, you know, the banking thing is totally resolved. But we’ve — I don’t think we’re going to hear anything out of Pyongyang or — over the next 24 hours we could, but I’m just guessing that maybe we won’t. But, you know, we think within a reasonable period of time that we’ll see. We’ll see if the intent is there for the DPRK to move forward they’re going to have the option to do and we can get this process going. Continue reading U.S. accepts China's wisdom on North Korea – and will be patient for a few more days

Brinksmanship over North Korean shutdown deadline

The U.S. State Department spokesman refused Friday to say that North Korea would not meet its Saturday deadline to shut down its nuclear reactor. In six-party talks, North Korea agreed to shut down the facility within 60 days — which would be by 14 April. The U.S. also apparently agreed to release frozen North Korean money in a bank in Macao — but instead seemingly tightened financial restrictions. Earlier this week, the U.S. announced that something had been done to release the funds, but North Korea has not yet confirmed that it has been able to collect the money.

So, the State Department spokesman told journalists in Washington on Friday: “In terms of where we are in this, well, again, we are on day 59 and counting. The deadline is tomorrow. As I think some of you have heard Chris [Hill, the U.S. negotiator now in China] say, we want to see all the parties and particularly want to see the North Koreans take steps to meet their commitments that have been outlined in the February 13th agreement. And while the statement that they put forward this morning is positive in that it reiterates that commitment to the agreement, what we need — really need to see now is some concrete steps taken. And I believe Chris said one of those might be a call to the IAEA to invite them to come to North Korea. [IAEA Director-General Mohamad ElBaradei already flew to North Korea once, virtually at the drop of a hat, in connection with this arrangement...] Look, again, there’s a day to go. I’m not going to try and evaluate where we’ll be tomorrow, and I’ll leave that to Chris and the other senior policy makers who are going to be going through that process over a couple of days. But I think it’s pretty clear that, again, there are commitments that are outlined in this agreement that statements are fine but those commitments need to be met. And the North Koreans should, in the time remaining, do what is possible to meet those goals and meet those requirements… I think most experts would tell you that it is fairly hard to completely shut down and seal for purposes of abandonment, which is what it says if I recall — the language of the February 13th agreement — a nuclear reactor in 24 hours. But again, they need to — there are things that they can in the next 24 hours and they need to do it…Look, deadlines do matter. Deadlines are important. We set them for a reason. It’s to provide benchmarks for all of us to both understand what our obligations are, to measure the progress that’s been made. But again, what we need to have happen at this point is see where we are at the end of the full 60-day period, see what steps have been taken and what steps haven’t been taken, and then be able to make an analysis of where we go from here…But that is something that I think people are going to want to take a good look at and take a couple of days to think about seriously, both for individual countries to look at internally as well as for all of us to consult with one another on. So all I’m trying to do is not offer you a assessment right now of where we will be going because I think that’s something that’s still an open question”.

Is the U.S. just being a “wise guy” in North Korea negotiations?

No doubt we will all hear, now, about how North Korea (and its like in the “Axis of Evil”) simply cannot be trusted, if they put off dismantling of thie nuclear reactor as they’ve agreed in the “Six Perty Talks”.

Of course, realists will just point out that North Korea’s big mistake was in thinking it could use this as a bargaining chip in any negotiations, in the first place — and that everybody knows they should just do this on its own, to supress proliferation, without any quid pro quo.

But, what is the U.S. thinking? That it will show North Korea … ?

The Associated Press is reporting today that “N. Korea insists U.S. unfreeze $25M“: “North Korea will not stop its nuclear activity unless $25 million of its funds held in a Macau bank are fully released, the regime’s top nuclear envoy said Saturday. Banco Delta Asia had been blacklisted by Washington since September 2005 for its complicity in North Korean money laundering. The U.S. had promised to resolve the issue as part of the implementation of a landmark nuclear disarmament deal with North Korea. Earlier this week, the U.S. Treasury Department ended its investigation into the small Macau lender and said that ties would be cut with the bank and the U.S. financial system. The move might lead regulators to unfreeze a portion of the money. Issuing the communist state’s first official response to the U.S. decision, Kim Kye Gwan said Saturday in Beijing that his country has not heard anything officially about the lifting of financial sanctions. ‘We will not stop our nuclear activity until our funds frozen in the BDA are fully released’, he said. ‘We will not stop the Yongbyon nuclear facility until the United States fully releases our funds frozen in the BDA’. But U.S. and U.N. officials said they were optimistic about moving forward with the disarmament deal, and a pro-North Korean newspaper in Japan with links to Pyongyang praised the Treasury Department’s decision. Christopher Hill, the chief American nuclear negotiator, said earlier Saturday that he planned to brief Kim on the bank issue in working groups. ‘I don’t think BDA will be an obstacle’, he said before meeting Kim. ‘I think we’ll work that out’. The Treasury Department is expected to provide guidance to help overseas regulators identify accounts at higher risk of involvement of illicit activities. This risk assessment could be used by Macau to release some North Korean money. A senior U.S. Treasury Department official arrived in Macau on Saturday to discuss the results of the investigation with Macanese officials. It will be up to the government of Macau — a semiautonomous Chinese territory — whether to release any of the funds. The risk assessment carried out by the U.S. department could be used by Macau authorities to release between $9 million and $12 million of the frozen funds, The Associated Press has reported. Under a Feb. 13 agreement, the North agreed to shut down Yongbyon, its main nuclear reactor and processing facility, and allow U.N. inspectors for verification by April 14. In return, North Korea would receive energy and economic assistance and a start toward normalizing relations with the U.S. and Japan. The head of the U.N. nuclear agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, said Friday he was optimistic after a visit to North Korea that his inspectors would be able to return to the country by the middle of next month.
‘We still hope we’ll do it by April 13’, the deadline under a 60-day timetable the North agreed to last month, said ElBaradei, chief of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency. ‘The earlier they invite us, the sooner we can go back’, to examine Pyongyang’s nuclear program and place reactors and other facilities under the IAEA seal, he told reporters in Vienna…The North boycotted nuclear talks for more than a year over the bank issue, but agreed to move toward disarmament after the U.S. promised to resolve it. Hill said the U.S. plans to raise the issue of North Korea’s alleged uranium enrichment program when the six-nation talks resume Monday.
U.S. allegations that North Korea has a uranium enrichment program brought on the nuclear crisis in 2002 that led the country to kick out U.N. inspectors and ultimately contributed to North Korea testing its first nuclear bomb last year. North Korea has never publicly acknowledged that it has such a program. Washington will also discuss benchmarks for progress in Pyongyang’s de-nuclearization efforts, Hill said. North Korea would be rewarded for meeting those benchmarks with deliveries of heavy fuel oil agreed to under the Feb. 13 agreement, he said…”