Archive for Tuesday, March 6, 2007

U.N. suspends N. Korean aid as U.S. opens diplomatic talks

March 6, 2007

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— The U.N. Development Program on Monday suspended operations in North Korea after Pyongyang rejected conditions ensuring that U.N. money was not being diverted to Kim Jong Il's regime.

The move came as North Korea's top nuclear negotiator met U.S. envoys about renewing diplomatic relations if Pyongyang scraps its nuclear weapons program in exchange for U.S. aid. The two countries have been foes since the 1950-53 Korean War and have not had relations for the more than 50 years since.

North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan met with Christopher Hill, the top U.S. negotiator at six-party talks on the North's nuclear program. Those discussions will continue today.

Washington wants Pyongyang to follow through on a Feb. 13 agreement to shut down its main nuclear facility within 60 days and give access to U.N. nuclear inspectors, who are scheduled to visit next week to discuss dismantling the country's nuclear program.

While the nuclear negotiations continue at the U.S. ambassador's suite at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in midtown New York, North Korean diplomats were reeling at the U.N. from the Development Program's suspension of its programs in North Korea.

The suspension affects 20 projects with a budget of $4.4 million, including food production and helping the government improve systems to manage the economy. Eight international staffers are being recalled from Pyongyang, and 15 North Koreans employed by the agency likely will lose their jobs.

After charges by the U.S. earlier this year that lax accounting meant that U.N. money could be diverted for illicit uses, the development agency's board, which includes North Korea, voted unanimously Feb. 25 to change the way it operated in the country.

The reforms included stopping the payment of salaries in euros to the North Korean government and local staff, refusing to employ government officials as UNDP workers and narrowing its programs to those that help the people but not the government. It also agreed to an outside audit.

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