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US Awaits North Korean Response to Nuclear Ideas


The United States said Thursday it is awaiting a North Korean response to proposals aimed at ending the year-long impasse in six-party talks on Pyongyang's nuclear program. Senior U.S. and North Korean envoys met twice this week in Beijing under Chinese auspices. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The meetings between U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian Affairs Christopher Hill and North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan ended inconclusively.

But officials here say the North Korean side listened intently to proposals Hill offered, and they say they are still holding out an expectation the six-party talks will resume before the end of the year.

The Chinese-sponsored talks, which began in 2003, yielded an agreement in principle in September of last year under which Pyongyang was to scrap its nuclear program in return for aid and security guarantees.

However the talks broke down two months later, amid reported disagreements about the sequencing of a disarmament and aid program, and with Pyongyang irate over banking sanctions the United States imposed against it because of alleged counterfeiting of U.S. currency.

No details have been provided about the proposals offered by Assistant Secretary Hill, though U.S. officials have said publicly they would be prepared to set up a special working group within the six-party talks to discuss the banking penalties.

Briefing reporters, State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey said it is now up to the Pyongyang leadership to respond:

"We've put forward some ideas," said Tom Casey. "The North Koreans listened intently, and said they would go back to Pyongyang and consult with their government leaders. And hopefully we will have a response from them as soon as possible. Again, we want to see this be a successful process. We think it was a good exchange of views."

At a stop in Tokyo Thursday en route home from Beijing, Assistant Secretary Hill said the ball is very much in the North Korean court.

He said the problem is not in setting a date for a new round but actually making progress toward getting North Korea out of the nuclear business and back into the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which it left in 2003.

North Korea announced its readiness to return to negotiations at the end of October, only a few weeks after conducting its first nuclear test and being hit with sanctions by the U.N. Security Council.

The penalties include curbs on exports to North Korea of military technology, and luxury items thought to be favored by the country's rulers.

In an announcement Thursday, the U.S, Commerce Department said in accordance with the sanctions resolution it is banning sales to North Korea of a long list of goods including luxury cars, motorcycles, yachts, liquor, and big-screen televisions.

Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez said in a written statement the United States is not restricting essential items like food and medicine for the North Korean people, but rather items purchased for no other reason than to benefit the governing elite.

While North Korea's people starve and suffer, Gutierrez said, there is simply no reason for the regime to splurge on cognac and cigars.

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