Glenn Kessler and Ed Cody of the Post report that the US Department of the Treasury has ended its investigation of Banco Delta Asia and has formally ordered US banks to cut ties with the Macau-based bank of international fame.
The decision was apparently released immediately (timing is different from causality) after Mohamed ElBaradei's recent meeting in Pyongyang. According to Elbaradei, DPRK officials expressed a willingness to shut down the reactor but only after the US lifts the measures that have frozen the ~$25 million in DPRK linked accounts at BDA.
At first glance, I failed to see how this was a step forward. The article notes, however, that the move will allow officials in Macau to release the funds. A second Post article (cited below) suggests that the ending of the investigation allows the US to place specifc restrictions on BDA, as opposed to blanket restrictions...thus increasing its options with regard to financical transactions. Interestingly, depending on how the DPRK reacts, it could turn out that some parties are happy because the US just instituted strict financial restrictions on BDA and publicly condemned it. Funny how that works out.
So I guess the US wins because it gets to lay into the bank about it's poor practices and chastise the DPRK about the funds and how they were managed and the DPRK wins because it gets its money back with little in the way of overt punishment (with the exception perhaps of the inconvenience or underlying economic trouble caused by the freeze since it was put in place...and I haven't seen figures on this).
It's also interesting to note that it seems there's a lack of clarity on whether this will placate the North. Does this speak to the lack of clarity in the negotiations that took place (listing measures to be taken and what would be considered acceptable), to a lack of faith in the North's underlying intentions, or to a lack of understanding on the part of outside officials as to what the DPRK's end goals are? Probably a bit of each.
The North hasn't issued an official reaction yet. But China has. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang expressed, "...deep regret for the ruling by the U.S." He didn't explicitly say why, but others guessed it might be partly out of concern that the move could affect the denuclearization process and partly out of concern for China's reputation (in terms of Macau). Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, in part, agreed, saying with reference to China, "They want to make sure that Macau's reputation is intact, so I am not surprised."
Well, the working groups are at it...working one would assume. Let's see what comes out of the round-up meeting on Monday. (My guess: very little information, a couple of pithy, uninformative quotes, general optimism, and an agreement to have more meetings.)