N. Korea offers to shut reactor

The Baltimore Sun

SEOUL, South Korea -- North Korea said it would begin shutting down its main nuclear reactor within a day of retrieving about $25 million that had been frozen in a Macau bank because of U.S. sanctions, Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico said yesterday.

North Korea also offered to admit United Nations nuclear inspectors for the first time in more than four years, said Richardson, after an official visit to North Korea and a meeting with senior officials there.

Fulfilling those offers would resolve North Korea's long dispute with the U.S. Treasury. The disagreement has stalled multinational efforts to restart talks on ending North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

In Macau, financial authorities said yesterday that the holders of accounts at the bank, Banco Delta Asia, containing $25 million in deposits tied to North Korea were free to withdraw or transfer the money.

"The North Koreans made it clear that they felt that the Treasury Department had fulfilled its obligations," Richardson said yesterday at a news conference in Seoul. "I'm optimistic about North Korea's willingness to return to the six-party talks and shut down the Yongbyon reactor."

Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, could be invited back to North Korea this weekend, Richardson said.

The last step the North Koreans were awaiting was an official notification from the Macau bank that the money was available, he said. That notification could be issued by this morning.

Richardson, a Democrat running for his party's presidential nomination, led a delegation to North Korea that included Victor D. Cha, President Bush's main policy adviser on North Korea, and Anthony J. Principi, a former secretary of veterans affairs.

The delegation's official mission was to recover remains of American troops killed in the Korean War.

Earlier yesterday, the group crossed the border into South Korea, completing a four-day trip to the North, and bringing back what U.S. officials believe are the remains of six American soldiers.

While in North Korea, delegation members met with the country's main nuclear negotiator, Kim Kye Gwan, and other senior leaders, and pressed North Korean officials to restart the nuclear disarmament process.

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