Washington (AFP) Jan 30, 2007
The United States said Tuesday it was hopeful that "substantial progress" can be made when six-nation talks aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear program resume in China next week. The State Department said a series of meetings this month in Berlin between US and North Korean negotiators had set the stage for reviving a denuclearization agreement reached with Pyongyang in September 2005 but never implemented.
"We've now gone through some additional consultations and I think we're hopeful that this round will in fact achieve that objective and we'll be able to see some substantial progress on it," spokesman Tom Casey said.
But Casey cautioned that negotiations with North Korea had "time and time again" proven unpredictable and that the North's attitude would only become clearer once the next round of talks begins on February 8.
In addition to the United States, North Korea and China, the six-party process involves Japan, South Korea and Russia.
The top US negotiator, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, will visit Tokyo and Seoul for consultations on his way to Beijing for the February 8 resumption of talks, Casey said.
Under the 2005 deal, reached through an earlier series of six-party negotiations, North Korea agreed to give up its nuclear weapons program in exchange for security guarantees, economic aid and improved relations with the United States.
But North Korea walked away from the agreement a month later in protest at the imposition of US sanctions against a Macau bank accused of money-laundering for the regime in Pyongyang.
As part of the deal that enticed North Korea back to negotiations last month, Washington agreed to discuss the sanctions imposed on Banco Delta Asia (BDA) in parallel with the resumed denuclearization talks.
The December round of six-party negotiations ended in stalemate after North Korea, emboldened by its first-ever test of an atomic bomb in October last year, insisted that the US sanctions and broader UN measures imposed against the North in December be lifted.
US and North Korean officials began a second round of discussions on a variety of financial issues Tuesday in Beijing, but were not due to talk specifically about the Banco Delta Asia sanctions until Wednesday, Casey said.
Casey declined to comment on a report that Washington could release 13 million dollars out of 24 million dollars in North Korean accounts that were frozen at BDA as a result of US actions against the bank.
But other US officials have left open the possibility that some of the frozen funds could be released if an ongoing investigation into BDA found the money did not originate from illicit activities.
Earlier Tuesday in Beijing, the chief US financial negotiator, Daniel Glaser, said he had presented his North Korean counterparts with evidence of North Korean money laundering and counterfeiting of US currency involving BDA.
"We in the US have had the opportunity to go over 300,000 pages (of bank documents) and everything we've seen to this point confirms what we've been saying that there has been a lot of troubling activity going on at that bank," Glaser told reporters after three hours of talks with the North Korean.
earlier related report
The previous round of six-party talks ended in December in stalemate after North Korea, emboldened by its first-ever test of an atomic bomb in October last year, insisted that US and United Nations sanctions against it be lifted.
Although the sanctions remain in place, China's foreign ministry said Tuesday all parties would return to the negotiating table on February 8, with the end-goal still to convince North Korea to scrap its nuclear program.
"China will actively cooperate with all parties concerned to push forward positive progress in the talks," foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told reporters as she announced the start date.
"We hope that all sides will maintain their positive attitudes, strengthen dialogue, deepen trust and fully implement the joint statement at an early date and realise the goals for the peninsula."
Jiang was referring to a statement agreed in September 2005 in which North Korea said it would give up its nuclear program in return for security guarantees, aid and energy benefits.
Shortly after that deal was struck, North Korea pulled out of the forum in protest at US financial sanctions against it for alleged money laundering and counterfeiting.
The sanctions have seen 24 million dollars of North Korean funds frozen in a Macau-based bank.
Although North Korea finally agreed to come back to the six-party forum in December last year following intense international pressure triggered by its atomic test, the talks broke up with Pyongyang holding firm on its position.
In an effort to break the sanctions deadlock, Daniel Glaser, deputy assistant US treasury secretary for terrorist financing and financial crimes, met here with O Kwang-Chol, president of the North's Foreign Trade Bank.
During three hours of talks at the US embassy Tuesday, the US side laid out evidence of money laundering and counterfeiting at the Macao-based Banco Delta Asia, he told journalists following the discussions.
"We in the US have had the opportunity to go over 300,000 pages (of bank documents) and everything we've seen to this point confirms what we've been saying that there has been a lot of troubling activity going on at that bank," Glaser said.
"I think what we accomplished today in that regard is to establish a framework that will allow us to talk more about this in the days to come."
Glaser said the two sides would meet again Wednesday in the North Korean embassy.
"Hopefully as we move forward (these talks) will give us an opportunity to shed more light on the things that we are concerned about," Glaser said.
Two US secret service agents also attended the talks and described their investigations into the bank and the "very, very serious concerns that they have about counterfeiting," Glaser said.
Glaser and O last met in Beijing in December on the sidelines of the six-nation talks. Separate United Nations sanctions were imposed on North Korea in response to its atomic test. Although North Korea has also demanded they be lifted, Pyongyang has appeared to place a greater focus on the US sanctions issue.
Source: Agence France-Presse
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US Reluctant To Hold Direct Talks With Iran
Washington (AFP) Jan 30, 2007
The US is "reluctant" to hold direct talks with Iran until there is progress in the dispute over Tehran's nuclear program, John Negroponte, the incoming number two US diplomat, said Tuesday. The United States has demanded that Iran stop its uranium enrichment activities, which Washington fears would be used to build a nuclear bomb, before any bilateral talks.
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