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North Korea says no nuclear talks until US lifts sanctions

"I don't anticipate any six-party talks," Rice told reporters aboard her plane while en route from a failed Middle East peace conference in Rome. Photo courtesy AFP
by Jun Kwanwo
Kuala Lumpur (AFP) Jul 27, 2006
North Korea Thursday refused to rejoin nuclear talks until the United States drops financial sanctions, dimming hopes of reviving the stalled discussions at a security meeting here.

The communist state's announcement comes despite days of hectic diplomacy aimed at dragging Pyongyang back to the negotiating table on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, also in Malaysia, had earlier said she did not expect a positive response from North Korea which carried out controversial missile tests this month.

"There can be no such a thing as six-way talks," said Chung Sung-Il, a spokesman for the North Korean delegation to the forum, after the country's Foreign Minister Paek Nam-Sun arrived in Kuala Lumpur.

"As we have already said, the United States should first lift its financial sanctions on us... if they want to see the six-way talks resume at an early date," Chung added.

Foreign Minister Paek refused to answer reporters' questions. Wearing a dark suit and apparently suffering from a limp, an electric airport buggy whisked him through the arrivals hall to a waiting North Korean embassy car.

North Korea walked out of the talks in November after Washington accused a Macau-based bank of helping Pyongyang launder earnings from fake US currency, and told US financial institutions to stop dealing with the bank.

The US says the clampdown on the bank is a criminal matter and should not be linked to the nuclear issue.

Financial sanctions are a sensitive topic with North Korea, whose accounts at the Bank of China have reportedly been frozen in a move that shows Beijing's frustrations with its unpredictable long-time ally.

Chinese officials were due to meet their North Korean counterparts on Friday, the latest in a series of two-way meetings between the major players in the nuclear standoff.

US officials had earlier played down the likelihood of North Korea attending the six-way talks, which group North and South Korea, China, Japan, the United States and Russia.

"I don't anticipate any six-party talks," Rice told reporters aboard her plane while en route from a failed Middle East peace conference in Rome.

Pyongyang earlier in the week branded Rice a "political imbecile" in retaliation for her description of the seven missile test launches on July 5 as "completely irresponsible" and "dangerous."

Top US nuclear negotiator Christopher Hill said the other countries involved in the talks should proceed without North Korea.

"(We have) five parties already, it's just the sixth that's lost on the way. So we are hoping to have a broader discussion on security in Northeast Asia," he said.

However, China, which has been spearheading the drive to bring its ally back to the negotiating table, said it was still holding out hopes for a six-nations meeting on Friday.

"Whatever the situation is, China will absolutely not give up, we will insist on making efforts towards the six-party talks progress," said foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu.

"We hope other parties will make efforts together with China for that aim."

Tokyo, which sponsored a UN Security Council condemnation of the reclusive regime after the missile launches, also said North Korea's statement did not spell the end of the talks.

"Japan does not jump to react every time North Korea says something," a Japanese foreign ministry spokesman said.

"Japan is in the position of waiting, if China can successfully hold the six-way talks Japan will be there, but if not Japan won't."

Anticipating that the North Koreans would refuse to come back to the talks, the Asian powers and the United States have been considering other ways to tackle the issue.

US envoy Hill suggested that the talks could be broadened to include other countries, following a South Korean suggestion for multilateral talks also including Malaysia, Australia and Canada.

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US has "zero" plans to meet North Korea at ASEAN
Kuala Lumpur (AFP) Jul 27, 2006
The United States said Thursday it had "zero" plans to meet one-on-one with North Korea until the Stalinist state re-enters the "diplomatic game" of six-nation nuclear talks.

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