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US, North Korea to Resume Financial Talks This Week


U.S. Treasury officials are in Beijing for this week's scheduled resumption of financial talks with North Korean officials. Pyongyang says it will not end its nuclear weapons capabilities while U.S. law enforcement actions block North Korea's access to international banks. VOA Seoul Correspondent Kurt Achin has more.

At the first talks on U.S. financial sanctions against North Korea in December, little progress was made. The top U.S. negotiator's most positive comment was that the meeting was "businesslike."

That negotiator, U.S. Deputy Assistant Treasury Secretary Daniel Glaser, was a bit more hopeful about the talks that begin Tuesday in Beijing.

"I am looking forward to some productive meetings, picking up where we left off," Glaser says.

This week's talks are seen as a prelude to six-nation talks on ending Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programs, which are expected to reconvene within weeks.

China, Russia, Japan, the United States and South Korea have tried for three years to get the North to end its nuclear ambitions in exchange for diplomatic and financial rewards.

However, North Korea says there will be no progress on the nuclear issue until Washington lifts financial sanctions against it.

In September 2005, North Korea pledged to shut down its nuclear programs. But days later, the U.S. Treasury imposed financial sanctions against a Macau bank accused of helping North Korea launder money and counterfeit dollars.

Dozens of other banks voluntarily cut off ties with the North to avoid violating U.S. laws. Experts say that made it much harder for cash-starved Pyongyang to conduct business.

In anger, North Korea boycotted the nuclear talks for a year. Pyongyang only returned to the talks after it tested its first nuclear explosive in October, and at that December meeting the North's delegates refused to discuss anything but the financial sanctions.

Washington maintains the sanctions are a law enforcement issue, separate from the nuclear diplomacy.

Tong Kim, a visiting scholar at Seoul's Ilmin Institute for International Relations, spent years dealing with North Korea as a high-level Korean interpreter for the State Department. He says Treasury officials should be realistic about what it expects from North Korea, saying Pyongyang will never admit knowingly engaging in illegal activities.

In fact, he says, the North Korean negotiators may know nothing about such activities.

"These people, whoever the Pyongyang regime sends to these kind of talks, they have no idea … their system is compartmentalized in such a way that no one else knows except those who are directly involved in this kind of a thing," Kim says.

Kim says Treasury officials may have to content themselves at this week's talks with a pledge of future cooperation on illegal activities.

"You know - 'Not that we did it before, but you just let us know if our guys get involved in this - we will punish them if you catch them.' That's the sort of thing they will come up with," Kim says.

U.S. officials reportedly are considering partially lifting the sanctions, to provide a face-saving way for the North to offer progress in the nuclear weapons talks.

However, if the financial talks remain stalemated, regional experts say, the nuclear discussions will probably go nowhere as well.

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