After meeting, nuclear talks are no nearer

Posted in Koreas | 09-Mar-06 | Author: Brian Lee| Source: Joong Ang Daily

Li Gun, chief of the Foreign Ministry's North American division, walks past reporters as he arrives at the American Permanent Mission to the United Nations, Tuesday, March 07, 2006 in New York.

March 09, 2006 - At a meeting between North Korean and U.S. officials in New York on Wednesday, the Pyongyang delegation demanded that sanctions imposed by Washington on a Macao bank be lifted before North Korea would return to nuclear negotiations. Li Gun, the head of the North American desk at Pyongyang's Foreign Ministry, described the meeting in an interview with the South Korean daily newspaper Hankyoreh. Pyongyang also asked Washington to agree to set up a "cooperative committee" through which information on illegal financial transactions could be exchanged. He said the U.S. delegation did not respond to the suggestion. Mr. Ri he did not explain in detail another suggestion he made, that Pyongyang open an account with a U.S. bank for "transparency."

Last October, the U.S. Treasury Department designated Banco Delta Asia as a "primary money laundering" concern, linking it to North Korean counterfeiting and money laundering. Several banks around the globe subsequently ended their business dealings with the Macao bank.

Little seemed to have changed in the standoff between North Korea and the United States because of the meeting, which Washington carefully called a briefing on its financial sanctions against North Korea. After the meeting was over Mr. Li told reporters that the North would not return to the six-party negotiations in Beijing aimed to induce the North to abandon its nuclear ambitions. He said that continued U.S. pressure on North Korea made it impossible for his government to resume the negotiations.

Both sides reportedly reiterated their positions; Washington had made it clear that it would not negotiate a solution to the impasse other than a verifiable end to North Korean counterfeiting and other illicit activities. The United States has contended that the North has made and sold illegal drugs and fake cigarettes among other nefarious activities.

Officials in Seoul had hoped against hope that the meeting would give both countries a chance to find some middle ground. Despite its official position that the United States had not yet provided convincing proof that North Korea was behind the counterfeiting, Seoul had been quietly promoting a scheme in which North Korea could stop the printing presses but deny any official involvement. Russia's ambassador to Seoul, Gleb Ivashentsov, also said Tuesday that Washington had not proven its case.

Earlier, U.S. Ambassador Alexander Vershbow said that Washington wanted Pyongyang to provide evidence that plates used to print the $100 "supernotes" had been destroyed.

Last month, Pyongyang vowed its help in combating international financial crime and complained that it was a victim, not an instigator, of counterfeiting.

A Foreign Ministry official said yesterday that despite the impasse, it was too early to pronounce the nuclear talks dead. "Positions have been staked out, but this is part of a process to find out what can be done to move forward," the official said.

At the meeting in Washington, State Department officials emphasized that the sanctions were unrelated to the six-party nuclear talks. A U.S. Treasury statement said that Daniel Glaser, an official dealing with terrorist and criminal financing, told the North Koreans that further action could be taken if necessary to protect U.S. currency and financial institutions.