U.S.: N Korea would allow U.N. inspectors

( AP ) - North Korea's top nuclear negotiator told a visiting American delegation Monday that his government would immediately invite U.N. inspectors into the country if $25 million in disputed North Korean funds are released to Pyongyang, U.S. officials said.

North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan met with Bill Richardson, a Democratic presidential candidate, and Anthony Principi, President Bush's former veteran affairs secretary, who were visiting Pyongyang.

Kim "indicated that the North Korean government would invite the ... inspectors back the moment the funds are released to the North Korean government," Principi told reporters after the meeting.

Kim also told the delegation of the difficulty of shutting down the regime's main nuclear reactor by a Saturday deadline called for in a February nuclear disarmament accord, he said.

"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.

The delegation, which also includes Victor Cha, Bush's top adviser on North Korea, is on a four-day trip to Pyongyang to recover remains of American servicemen killed in the Korean War. Richardson, governor of New Mexico and a former ambassador to the U.N., said Sunday he had no intention of negotiating nuclear matters.

There has been little progress in implementing the landmark Feb. 13 nuclear agreement in which North Korea promised to take initial steps toward dismantling its nuclear program, including closing its main nuclear reactor and providing a full list of its nuclear facilities.

The impoverished North has refused to move forward due to the delayed transfer of $25 million in the regime's money frozen by Macau authorities after the U.S. blacklisted privately run Banco Delta Asia in that Chinese administrative region in 2005 for allegedly helping Pyongyang launder money.

Last week, the State Department said that a hitch stalling the release of the funds had been resolved, potentially clearing the way for the disbursement of the money. No details were released on when or how the money would be transferred.

Macau government spokeswoman Elena Au said Monday that she had no immediate comment. Calls to Macau's monetary authority and Banco Delta Asia went unanswered.

Richardson said his delegation pushed Kim for a show of good faith that North Korea was ready to move forward in it obligations under the Feb. 13 deal. He said the U.S. side asked for a meeting of the six nations involved in nuclear disarmament talks before Saturday, when Pyongyang is supposed to shut down its nuclear reactor and let in U.N. nuclear inspectors.

"Our negotiators are ready to meet with the North Koreans immediately so that this effort to dismantle their nuclear weapons is concluded," Richardson said.

He said he was hoping to travel to Yongbyon, 55 miles north of Pyongyang, to inspect the reactor, but there were a lot of "political issues involved." He did not elaborate.

Reporters were allowed to view the first minutes of the meeting. Kim said that the visit was the first one that included both Democratic and Republican American officials since Bush took office.

"In light of current international relations and DPRK-US relations, your current visit to our country is of very great significance," Kim said through an interpreter.

Richardson has regularly made diplomatic trips, often on his own initiative, to a number of global hot spots. Though visits to North Korea by senior U.S. officials are rare, this was Richardson's sixth.

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