The United States expects North Korea to shut down the reactor at the heart of its nuclear arms development program within about three weeks, top U.S. nuclear envoy Christopher Hill said on Saturday.
One obstacle to implementing a deal to disable Pyongyang's program appeared to have been removed when Russia confirmed $25 million in North Korea funds, frozen in Macau at the behest of Washington, had been transferred to a Russian bank.
At this time the transfer of North Korean money from Macau to a Russian commercial bank has been completed, Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said in a statement on Saturday.
We consider that the participants of the six-party process will now be able to move towards practical actions aimed at realizing the Beijing agreements of February 13, 2007.
Interfax news agency reported a Finance Ministry official as saying the full amount had been transferred into a North Korean account at Khabarovsk-based Dalkombank.
North Korea said on Saturday it would begin implementing the nuclear disarmament deal it had agreed with top regional powers on February 13 as soon as it recovered the funds.
Under the deal, Pyongyang agreed to shut down Yongbyon, the source of its weapons-grade plutonium, in exchange for energy aid. The deal was brokered at six-party talks with the United States, China, South Korea, Japan and Russia.
Hill, who visited the isolated East Asian state this week, said the next round of six-party talks would be held after the closing of Yongbyon began, most likely in the early part of July.
MEETING ON MONITORING
The closing of the reactor would take place after North Korea agreed on the monitoring of the operation with the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Hill told reporters in Tokyo.
We do expect this to take place soon, and within probably three weeks, I don't want to be pinned down on precisely the day, he said after talks with his Japanese counterpart, Kenichiro Sasae.
An IAEA delegation is due in North Korea on Tuesday to help draw up plans for the reactor shutdown.
Hill said that in North Korea he had also raised the issue of Japanese citizens kidnapped decades ago by Pyongyang, a highly emotive issue that prompted Tokyo to refuse to provide aid under the February 13 accord until it saw progress.
The U.S. diplomat said he had received no new answers on the fate of the abductees, seized to help train North Korean spies, but added: I think any time you can meet DPRK officials and raise the abduction issue, it's good.
Easing Tokyo's stance on Pyongyang could be tough for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ahead of an election expected in July.
A North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman quoted by state media said that, during Hill's visit, both sides had agreed to consider resuming the six-party talks in the first half of July.
Hill cautioned that closing the nuclear facility was just the start of the process and does not solve all our problems.
(Additional reporting by Isabel Reynolds in Tokyo and Jack Kim in Seoul)