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US Envoy Urges N. Korea to Consider Benefits of Ending Nuclear Capabilities

  • Kurt Achin

The top U.S. negotiator on North Korea nuclear disarmament is in Tokyo, halfway through four days of shuttle consultations with regional allies. Christopher Hill says he expects multinational talks with North Korea to resume within weeks. VOA's Kurt Achin reports from Seoul, where Hill began his latest Asian tour.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill met Saturday in Tokyo with his counterpart, Kenichiro Sasae - chief Japanese negotiator in six-nation talks aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear weapons capabilities.

The United States, Japan, China, Russia, South and North Korea wrapped up the latest session in Beijing in December of the three-year old talks with no progress to report.

However earlier this week in Berlin, Hill had an unusual one-on-one meeting with senior North Korean negotiator Kim Kye Kwan. Both sides emerged vague but upbeat about the prospect of future negotiations.

Hill is now briefing Asian partner nations on the Berlin encounter and says more diplomacy is on the way.

"We certainly had an agreement on getting the six-party talks going soon, and an agreement on continuing the BDA talks - which we expect to take place even as early as next week," he said.

The BDA talks Hill mentions refer to Macau's Banco Delta Asia - the single biggest sticking point in talks with North Korea right now.

Within days of North Korea signing a deal in principle in 2005 to end it nuclear programs, the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned Banco Delta Asia for allegedly helping North Korea launder money and counterfeit U.S. dollars.

As a result, BDA froze $24 million in North Korean accounts. Many other international banks voluntarily rejected North Korean business to avoid U.S. scrutiny.

In response, North Korea boycotted the six-party nuclear disarmament talks for more than a year.

Only after North Korea conducted its first-ever nuclear test in October, did it agree to resume negotiations. But when it did in December, North Korean officials refused to discuss anything but the BDA issue.

U.S. Treasury officials are now expected to meet with North Korean authorities as early as Monday to clear the way for nuclear talks.

Some reports suggest Washington may work to unfreeze at least some of the North's BDA money deemed to have come from legitimate activities.

But Hill has said many times that the six-party process is much larger than the BDA issue, and can lead to hundreds of millions of dollars worth of financial and energy aid to the impoverished North if it takes steps to disarm.

"Without denuclearization, a lot of these things we talk about... is going to be very, very difficult indeed," he said.

Hill moves on to Beijing Sunday before returning to Washington.

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