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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

N. Korean Accounts Unfrozen

SEOUL, South Korea -- The United States said Tuesday that Macao authorities had unblocked funds in frozen North Korean accounts, and told Pyongyang that it must now start shutting down a nuclear reactor, days before a deadline.

North Korea has insisted that it will only close the reactor, which supplies it with weapons-grade plutonium, once the $25 million that has been frozen since 2005 in Macau's Banco Delta Asia is freed.

Under an international deal agreed to two months ago to end its nuclear weapons program, North Korea has until Saturday to start shutting down its Yongbyon atomic plant.

"I will let the Macanese authorities speak to how they want to put it, but the bottom line is that they have unblocked these accounts and the account holders can -- authorized account holders can -- withdraw the funds from those accounts," U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

A Macau Monetary Authority official said only that there would be an announcement of some kind within a "few days." The funds were frozen after Washington accused the Macau bank of being involved in money laundering.

Furious that the money still had not been freed, North Korea walked out of a round of six-country talks on its nuclear program in March, five months after its first atomic test.

The announcement came as top U.S. officials visited both sides of the divided Korean peninsula.

"I think we've reached a very important day today with the imminent release of these funds," chief U.S. nuclear negotiator Chris Hill said in Seoul.

"Now we need to move on from this banking issue to the real purpose of our February agreement, which is to get on with denuclearization."

A Feb. 13 agreement among the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States gave Pyongyang 60 days to shut its nuclear facilities in return for energy aid.