Pallavi Aiyar

Pyongyang not to attend meet till receipt of frozen funds

Beijing: The ongoing six-party talks in Beijing to negotiate the denuclearisation of North Korea hit an unexpected snag on Tuesday, with the frozen funds issue continuing to cast a pall over proceedings.

Although the United States on Monday announced that it would be releasing the $25 million frozen at Macau's Banco Delta Asia (BDA), the DPRK on Tuesday refused to attend a planned meeting of chief negotiators scheduled for the afternoon until it could confirm receipt of those funds.

"According to host China, North Korea is saying that it will not take part in talks unless it confirms the funds at BDA are transferred to its account in China," Japan's chief envoy, Kenichiro Sasae, told reporters.

"China urged North Korea to come forward, but North Korea did not do so. There was no progress at all today," he said.

Ahead of Tuesday's talks, the U.S. had expressed hopes of getting down to discussing the nitty-gritty of the February 13 deal according to which Pyongyang would shut down its main nuclear reactor by April 14 in return for energy aid.

Christopher Hill, the U.S. envoy had also said he would aim to push the talks beyond the April 14 deadline and into mapping the next stage of disarmament.

While a series of bilateral meetings did take place on Tuesday morning, the North's insistence on actual receipt of the frozen funds before it would agree to continue with any substantive discussions threw a spanner into these proceedings.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency cited Macau banking sources as saying that the Macau Government would transfer the funds on Wednesday morning.

The Monetary Authority of Macau said in a statement on Monday that it will release the funds "in accordance with the instructions of the account holders" but did not give any other details.

The talks are further complicated by an ongoing bilateral dispute between the DPRK and Japan.

The North has questioned Japan's qualifications to remain as a participant in the talks angered by Tokyo's insistence that they must resolve the outstanding issue of the abduction of Japanese citizens by Pyongyang in the 1970s and '80s before taking steps to improve relations.

On Tuesday afternoon China expressed its annoyance with this dispute.

"We hope obstacles can be resolved rather than crop up constantly," Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said when asked for comment on the tensions between Japan and the DPRK.

This round of six-party talks was scheduled to end on Wednesday. In light of Tuesday's developments, however, it is possible they may be extended.