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North Korea Waiting on Funds to Act on Nuclear Program

North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan told visiting New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and President Bush’s former veteran affairs secretary Anthony Principi, that U.N. nuclear inspectors would be invited into the country if the funds were released.

Richardson and Principi were in Pyongyang to recover the remains of U.S. soldiers, making the first bipartisan U.S. trip to North Korea since President Bush took office.

The visit came just days after the U.S. said it would funnel the $25 million in frozen assets back to the reclusive Stalinist regime. The money comes from 50 North Korean accounts frozen in 2005, after the U.S. accused Banco Delta Asia in Macau of helping the communist nation launder money.

North Korea walked out of six-party talks aimed at ending its nuclear weapons program last month when transfer of the funds failed. The impoverished country has refused to move forward because of the delay.

The U.S. administration supports the release of all the funds, but the money issue “was more complicated than anyone could have imagined,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told the Associated Press.

International banks have been reluctant to deal with North Korea, complicating the return of the money. The United States might not be opposed to an extension in the deadline to resolve the issue, McCormack said.

The delays have meant little progress in implementing the February agreement in which North Korea promised to take steps within 60 days to dismantling its nuclear program, including shutting down the reactor. The deadline for the 60 day period is April 14.

“They can make a beginning, but whether they can completely shut down a nuclear reactor in such a short time would be very difficult,” Principi said, according to the Associated Press.

Richardson, a former ambassador to the U.N. and now Democratic presidential candidate, said his delegation asked for a meeting of the six nations involved in the nuclear disarmament talks before the Saturday deadline.

“I believe for the first time they do want to enter into an agreement with the six-party countries and they want a better relationship with the United States,” Richardson told NBC.

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