North Korea says it is ready to shut down its main nuclear reactor, which has produced plutonium for its nuclear weapons program. But the country is also calling on the United States to lift financial sanctions. Mohamed El Baradei, head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog, returned from the country Wednesday.
The International Atomic Energy Agency chief described his talks in North Korea as "quite useful."
The envoy's trip is the first visit by the IAEA since North Korea expelled inspectors in 2002.
"We cleared the air," El Baradei said. "We opened the door to a normal relationship between North Korea and the IAEA."
But the North Koreans insisted to El Baradei that before they honor their part of the deal, the U.S. had to lift its financial sanctions. Specifically, they want $25 million of their money that's currently frozen in the Banco Delta Asia in the Chinese territory of Macao.
Chief U.S. negotiator Christopher Hill says Washington will resolve the money-laundering dispute as promised. The U.S. Treasury Department announced measures that might lead to the lifting of some sanctions. That should clear the way for the North to close down its plutonium-producing reactor at Yongbyon.
Diplomats from the six nations involved in denuclearization talks are assembling in Beijing for the resumption of talks Monday. Assistant Secretary of State Hill has arrived to prepare for six-party talks on the nuclear issue, which will resume Monday.
Hill said the disarmament process outlined last month appears to be on track.
But observers say that any dispute — such as one over the Treasury's decision — could quickly derail the process.