Negotiations on the North Korean nuclear issue are under way again in the Chinese capital of Beijing.
But just before the talks resumed, U.S. officials announced the release of $25 million in frozen North Korean assets, clearing away a potential stumbling block in the negotiations.
Over the weekend, North Korea said that it would not shut down its nuclear facility at Yongbyon until the $25 million — frozen in a Macau bank — was released.
Daniel Glaser, a deputy assistant U.S. treasury secretary, said in a prepared statement Monday that the funds would be transferred to North Korea through a Chinese bank.
"North Korea has pledged within the framework of the six-party talks that these funds will be used solely for the betterment of the North Korean people, including for humanitarian and educational purposes," the statement read.
The funds are in the Banco Delta Asia in the Chinese territory of Macau. Last Wednesday, the Treasury barred U.S. financial institutions from any dealings with the BDA because of the bank's alleged involvement in North Korean counterfeiting and money laundering. That ruling still stands.
The financial issue has dogged the six-party talks for more than a year. Chinese lead negotiator Wu Dawei opened a new session of negotiations today.
"The six parties have decided on initial steps in an agreement signed last month. The talks have now entered a new phase of reciprocal actions," he said in Chinese.
Last month's agreement calls for Pyongyang to shut down its main nuclear facility within 60 days and get fuel aid and economic assistance in return.
The chief U.S. envoy to the talks, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, said that the initial steps were going according to schedule. He noted that Pyongyang last week assured the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency of its cooperation.
"We would look forward to that process continuing in the next 30 days, so that we will have the shutdown of the Yongbyon facility, the sealing of it and the monitoring of it by IAEA personnel," Hill said.
Japanese lead negotiator Kenichiro Sasae suggested difficult negotiations lie ahead.
"The working groups have just gotten up and working," Sasae said in Japanese. "It's going to be a long process, and we need a long-term view of the issues. We shouldn't get caught up in each day's developments."
Hill said that Monday's decision clears the way for talks on more substantial issues later.
The U.S. had initially said that releasing the money was up to authorities in Macau. But in the end, the U.S. agreed to North Korea's demand and announced the deal.