(2nd LD) U.S. expresses deep concern over Russia’s reported move to release frozen N.K. assets

A U.S. State Department spokesperson expressed deep concern Thursday over a media report that Russia has allowed the release of millions of dollars in frozen North Korean assets and may be helping the North with access to international banking networks. The New York Times published the report this week, noting that Moscow's such assistance has come after the North's transfer of weapons to Russia for use in Ukraine. "Of course, it is something that we're deeply concerned about, not just this specific event, but we spent a good amount of time in this briefing room talking about the closening of relations between the DPRK and Russia," Vedant Patel, the department's deputy spokesperson, told a press briefing. DPRK stands for the North's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. "There continues to be a clear track record of that. And so it's something that we're continuously monitoring," he added. Citing American-allied intelligence officials, the newspaper reported that Russia has allowed t he release of $9 million out of $30 million in frozen North Korean assets deposited in a Russian financial institution. Patel also criticized as "destabilizing" and "risky" a Russian diplomat's remarks that North Korea may opt to conduct another nuclear test should Washington continue to take what he claimed to be "provocative steps" against Pyongyang. Russian Ambassador to Pyongyang Alexander Matsegora made the remarks in an interview with Russia's state-run TASS published on Wednesday. Lim Soo-suk, spokesperson for South Korea's foreign ministry, called the remarks "very regrettable." "This kind of rhetoric is just another example of the kind of behavior that we believe to be incredibly destabilizing, risky and dangerous. We have repeatedly said that the United States does not harbor any hostile intent towards DPRK," he said. "We continue to be willing to engage with Pyongyang without preconditions and we simultaneously will continue to consult closely with the Republic of Korea and Japan trilaterally a s well as other allies and partners on how to continue to best engage the DPRK and deter this kind of aggressive behavior," he added. In the TASS interview, the Russian envoy said that the North Korean leadership may as well conduct what would be its seventh nuclear test if nuclear deterrence efforts by Seoul and Washington or other steps, including the flyby of U.S. strategic bombers over the Korean Peninsula, continue. In a separate press briefing, Maj. Gen. Patrick Ryder, the Pentagon press secretary, said that he was not aware of any imminent attack from North Korea, a statement that came amid growing concerns about the possibility of Pyongyang engaging in major provocations. Concerns over the chances of North Korean provocations have deepened due to the North's pugnacious rhetoric against the South and its continued weapons tests. "We are going to continue to monitor the situation. I am not aware of any imminent attacks," Ryder said. "We're going to continue to work closely with South Korea and Japan to monitor the region and work towards security and stability." Source: Yonhap News Agency