Washington (AFP) Feb 28, 2007
The top US negotiator with North Korea insisted Wednesday that Washington would pursue a crackdown on counterfeiting of US currency and other illicit dealings by Pyongyang despite moves towards normalization with the communist regime. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill told a congressional panel that the government was "prepared to resolve" a key financial dispute with North Korea as part of a deal to end that country's nuclear program.
The dispute involved US sanctions imposed in 2005 against a Macau-based bank accused of laundering North Korean-made counterfeit US 100 dollar bills.
The sanctions resulted in a freeze on 24 million dollars in North Korean funds at the bank and Washington's willingness to lift the measures was a key element in enticing Pyongyang to sign a February 13 agreement to freeze its nuclear program.
But Hill insisted that resolution of the sanctions issue "will not solve all of North Korea's problems with the internatioanl financial system".
And he specifically warned that the US would not tolerate continued North Korean production of the so-called 100 dollar "super-notes" that are virtually identical to the real currency.
"We have no intention of trading nuclear deals for counterfeiting our currency," Hill said.
"I have repeatedly raised with the North Korean side that it is completely unaccepteable to be engaged in this kind of activity," he said.
"We will continue to monitor this very closely and as we see signs that the North Koreans are somehow persisting in this activity, I can assure you that we will react accordingly," he said.
Hill also announced Wednesday that he would meet next week with his North Korean counterpart to begin talks aimed at normalizing relations between the long-time enemy states, another element of the February 13 pact.
Under the February 13 deal, North Korea said it would shut down its main nuclear facility and begin steps towards giving up its nuclear weapons program in exchange for some 300 million dollars in aid and moves towards "full diplomatic relations" with the US.
"We will begin the process of addressing our bilateral ties, with the intention of eventual normalization," Hill told a congressional panel about the upcoming talks.
"I want to emphasize the word begin -- we have a lot of bilateral issues to talk about," he said.
The State Department said next week's meetings would deal mainly with organizational matters and that the main focus remained on pursuing six-nation negotiations to achieve the full dismantling of North Korea's nuclear program and arsenal.
"Don't look at it as a meeting that's going to produce immediate results," department spokesman Sean McCormack said. "There's a lot of work to do."
Under the multi-phase February 13 agreement worked out in talks involving China, Japan, South Korea, Russia and the United States, North Korea had 60 days to shut down its Yongbyon nuclear facility, invite back international nuclear inspectors and declare all its nuclear programs.
The US and its partners agreed in return to provide North Korea with a first aid installment of 50,000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil, while Washington committed to launching a "working group" on bilateral ties within 30 days.
Four other working groups to be set up within the same timeframe concern specific steps North Korea needs to take to "disable their entire nuclear program," normalization of North Korea-Japan relations, economic and energy cooperation and a regional "peace and security mechanism," Hill said.
The deal was assailed by critics for offering economic and diplomatic carrots to North Korea before Pyongyang's notoriously erratic leadership was required to carry out concrete disarmament steps.
"The success of the deal is entirely dependent ... upon the good intentions of the North Korean leadership, good intentions that have been in remarkably short supply in Pyongyang," Tom Lantos, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told Hill at Wednesday's hearing.
Other legislators complained the agreement did not deal with issues like North Korea's ballistic missile program or poor human rights record.
Hill acknowledged there were "real differences with North Korea that go beyond denuclearization" and specifically mentioned human rights.
But he argued that the best way to proceed was to address them "in the context of a full normalization of our relations".
Hill stressed that the energy and other aid promised to North Korea would only be delivered as long as North Korea met specific benchmarks towards abandoning its nuclear program.
And he credited China, Pyongyang's main benefactor, with playing the key role in bringing North Korea back to the negotiating table after it shocked the world by testing its first nuclear weapon in October.
"One of the major guarantors that the agreement will be fulfilled is having China as the host," he said, calling Beijing "the most important participant in the six-party process."
US-North Korean relations have been marked by nearly constant confrontation and mistrust since the Korean War more than 50 years ago.
Bush ramped up the tensions in 2002 when he condemned the Stalinist regime as part of an "axis of evil" alongside Iran and Saddam Hussein's Iraq -- fueling North Korean fears of a looming US military attack.
But the administration has recently shown a greater willingness to deal with foes it has long shunned, with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announcing this week that she would join high-level talks on the future of Iraq that would involve both Iran and Syria.
Source: Agence France-Presse
Email This ArticleTwo Koreas In Detente Talks
Seoul (UPI) Mar 01, 2007
North and South Korea kicked off high-level talks Wednesday on reconciliation and economic aid amid hopes that the inter-Korean discussions could boost multilateral talks on the North's nuclear drive. In the Pyongyang ministerial talks, South Korean delegates called for the revival of cross-border exchange programs and the dismantling of the North's missile and nuclear programs, according to South Korean officials monitoring the meeting in the North's capital.
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