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UN atom monitors' visit to N.Korea on hold-N Korea

Written by: Staff

VIENNA, June 21 (Reuters) A visit by UN nuclear monitors to North Korea set for next week as part of Pyongyang's promised nuclear disarmament has been put on hold, a North Korean official said today.

The official said 25 million dollars in North Korean bank funds that were frozen in Macau and due to be released to a North Korean account in Russia this week had not arrived.

''As of now, the frozen funds have not reached our bank account.

Nobody knows why the remittance is delayed,'' said Hyon Yong Man, counsellor at Pyongyang's embassy in Vienna, where the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) watchdog is based.

''The release of the funds has not been completed.'' He said that was a precondition in Pyongyang's Feb. 13 agreement to readmit IAEA inspectors to verify a shutdown of its Yongbyon nuclear reactor, which produces plutonium for atomic bombs.

''Therefore, our side has informed the IAEA that we have no objection to them preparing the visit as a plan, but we are not ready to give our official confirmation for the visit as scheduled by the agency (next week),'' Hyon told reporters.

Asked whether the visit was on hold for now, he said, ''Yes.'' ''The agency expressed its understanding. We will consider developments in the situation in a cool mode,'' Hyon said.

The IAEA declined immediate comment.

North Korea had refused to honour a February agreement to begin mothballing the Yongbyon reactor until 25 million dollars at Macau's Banco Delta Asia (BDA) was released.

The money was blocked there after the United States blacklisted BDA, accusing it of laundering illicit funds for communist North Korea. On June 14, the government of Chinese-controlled Macau said the money had been released.

Pyongyang's announcement on June 16 that it had invited a senior IAEA delegation to finalise details of a return of inspectors whom it expelled in December 2002 suggested the funds issue had essentially been resolved.

Optimism rose further earlier on Thursday when a senior US State Department official began the first high-level visit to North Korea since October 2002, when US envoy James Kelly confronted Pyongyang with evidence that Washington said pointed to a clandestine uranium enrichment programme.

US nuclear envoy Christopher Hill said just before arriving in Pyongyang that six-country talks on the disarmament deal, under which impoverished North Korea would get hundreds of millions of dollars in aid, would likely resume in early July.

But he said in Tokyo that Pyongyang must keep the promise it made in February to shut the Yongbyon complex.

Diplomatic analysts said Washington and Pyongyang were eager to see speedy results in the nuclear disarmament talks.

Reuters SYU RN1657

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