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US Ambassador: Sanctions Against North Korean 'Criminal Regime' Will Not Be Lifted

Washington's new ambassador to South Korea has bluntly rejected North Korea's demand that the United States drop financial sanctions against Pyongyang as a prerequisite for Pyongyang's returning to nuclear disarmament talks.

Alexander Vershbow, the recently confirmed U.S. ambassador to South Korea, did not mince any words Wednesday in describing North Korea's communist government.

"This is a criminal regime," he said.

Ambassador Vershbow was rejecting a demand Pyongyang made earlier this week, that Washington end sanctions it placed on eight North Korean companies in October. The United States believes those companies are a front for illegal activities used to finance the North Korean government and fund its nuclear weapons programs.

In the official Rodong newspaper, North Korea said Tuesday that it would be "impossible to resume" multinational talks aimed and ending those nuclear programs unless the sanctions were lifted.

Ambassador Vershbow, speaking at a forum at the main South Korean press club in Seoul, said the sanctions would end only when the North's illegal activities, such as currency counterfeiting and narcotics trafficking, are ended.

"We can't somehow remove our sanctions as a political gesture when this regime is engaging in dangerous activities such as weapons exports to rogue states, narcotics trafficking as a state activity and counterfeiting of money on a large scale," he said.

North Korea has all but opted out of normal international trade, and its domestic economy is in shambles. The United States has long suspected the government there of using criminal activities to support itself.

Along with South Korea, China, Russia and Japan, the United States is offering to ease some of North Korea's economic hardships with financial and energy assistance, if the North dismantles its nuclear capabilities. They five nations have also offered increased diplomatic recognition.

In September, after receiving these offers, North Korea agreed in principle to dismantle its nuclear programs. Immediately after that agreement, however, it issued a new demand, that Washington provide it with a nuclear reactor for peaceful energy production.

The other parties to the negotiations have agreed with the United States position that there will be no discussion of a nuclear reactor for the North until nuclear programs have been abandoned. Washington in particular has insisted that Pyongyang focus on the nuclear issue, and not introduce what Washington considers extraneous matters.

Mr. Vershbow says the United States is ready to negotiate "right now" to move towards that goal. He says Pyongyang should not use U.S. law enforcement policies as a further pretext to delay the nuclear talks.