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Hill said this will be a 'very important week' for North Korea (file photo) (epa)
April 10, 2007 -- The United States says authorities in Macau have released the frozen funds North Korea has cited as a reason for refusing to shut its nuclear facilities.
The funds were blocked due to concerns about money laundering.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters today in Washington that authorized account holders can now withdraw funds from those accounts.
North Korea has insisted it must be able to access the $25 million before it will begin to implement a February 13 agreement that gave it 60 days to shut its nuclear facilities in return for energy aid. That deadline falls on April 15.
The top U.S. nuclear negotiator for North Korea expressed hope today that the deadline can still be met. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said in Seoul that this will be a "very important week" for North Korea.
Hill said Pyongyang faces a "very uncertain future" if it doesn't begin the process of denuclearization.
Meanwhile, Japan has decided to extend sanctions against North Korea for six more months.
The Japanese sanctions were first imposed after North Korea's nuclear test in October 2006, and include a ban that prevents Japan from accepting imports from the North.