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North Korea Says It 'Cannot Return' to Nuclear Talks


A senior North Korean diplomat says Pyongyang cannot return to talks aimed at ending its nuclear weapons programs while U.S. imposes sanctions on some North Korean businesses. U.S. officials briefed North Korea on those measures this week. South Korea and Washington are encouraging the North to come back to the bargaining table.

Senior North Korean envoy Li Gun says a U.S. briefing on sanctions has not changed Pyongyang's mind about the nuclear talks.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday night in New York, he cited U.S. financial pressure as the reason North Korea cannot return to multinational talks aimed at ending its nuclear weapons capabilities.

Earlier, Li and other North Korean diplomats met with U.S. Treasury officials at the United Nations in New York.

The Americans told the diplomats that Washington took action against some North Korean businesses last year to protect the U.S. financial system from counterfeit dollars and money laundering. They say the sanctions are completely separate from the nuclear negotiations.

U.S. investigators say they have evidence North Korea has engaged in counterfeiting and money laundering to finance its impoverished authoritarian regime.

In Seoul, South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Ko Ki-suk tried to put a positive spin Wednesday on the New York meeting. Ko says the meeting gave the U.S. and North Korea a chance to establish mutual understanding on the financial issue. The South Korean government has avoided taking a formal position on the U.S. allegations of counterfeiting, but has expressed concern about the issue.

Many North Korea experts say Pyongyang is feeling the pinch of the U.S. moves, which have blocked access by Pyongyang elites to international cash. A number of banks, including some in South Korea, have taken voluntary steps to distance themselves from dealings with the North.

However, Peter Beck, northeast Asia director for the International Crisis Group research organization, points out that most North Korean financial dealings are done with Chinese banks. He says that raises questions about how tough the U.S. is ready to get on the issue.

"Is Washington willing to put enough pressure on Beijing to get Beijing to crack down on all of North Korea's banking activities?, questioned Beck. "And that could come at the risk of the relationship between China and the U.S."

China, Russia, South Korea, Japan and the United States have tried for three years to convince North Korea to trade its nuclear weapons programs, in return for economic and political benefits.

The financial sanctions are Pyongyang's latest reason for refusing to negotiate. It has also demanded that Washington give it a civilian nuclear reactor, and apologize for comments by senior U.S. officials about North Korean human rights abuses.

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