The State Department said Thursday North Korea has accepted an offer for a briefing early next month on alleged counterfeiting and other financial misdeeds by Pyongyang that led to U.S. sanctions. North Korea has refused to return to six-party talks on its nuclear program because of the U.S. penalties.
Officials here say the North Korean move does not necessarily signal an early resumption of the Chinese-sponsored nuclear talks.
But they say Pyongyang has accepted a long-standing offer for a briefing by U.S. experts on the alleged financial misdeeds that led to American sanctions last year, and indirectly to the breakdown of the six-party nuclear negotiations.
The Treasury Department last September banned U.S. financial dealings with a Macao bank, Banco Delta Asia, which it accused of being a front for illicit North Korean activities including money-laundering and counterfeiting of U.S. currency.
A month later, several North Korean companies were hit with U.S. sanctions for alleged involvement in weapons proliferation.
North Korea denied the charges and responded angrily to the sanctions, refusing after November to continue in the six-party negotiations aimed at ending its nuclear weapons program.
At a news briefing, State Department Deputy Spokesman Adam Ereli said Li Gun, head of the North American division of the North Korean foreign ministry will receive the briefing in New York March 7 from a team of officials from the Treasury and State Departments and White House National Security Council.
The spokesman said the purpose of the briefing is to respond to questions and concerns raised by Pyongyang about the sanctions.
He reiterated that the United States sees no link between the sanctions and the nuclear dialogue, and said the six-party talks should resume on their own merit under an agreement in principle reached last September in Beijing:
"Let's not lose sight of the fact that there was a statement of principles that everybody agreed to," said Adam Ereli. "And that statement of principles said our goal is the denuclearization of the peninsula and we're all agreed that we're going to get back to talks quickly. That hasn't happened, and that's unfortunate. It shouldn't be delayed. And this issue of actions the United States has taken based on its laws with respect to illicit financial activities has nothing to do with the six-party talks."
Under the framework accord, North Korea said it was willing to give up its nuclear weapons and related programs in exchange for aid from the other parties and guarantees of peaceful intentions by the United States.
Among other things, the sides also agreed to discuss, at an appropriate time, the provision to North Korea of a light-water nuclear power plant.
In addition to the United States, North Korea and host China, the six-party talks also include South Korea, Japan and Russia.
The agreement in principle, the first breakthrough in the talks which began in 2003, was announced last September 19. The talks have been idle since then with the exception of an inconclusive three-day session in November.
China has been trying to broker a resumption of the negotiations and its Vice Foreign Minister, Yang Jiechi, held talks in Washington on the issue earlier this week.
South Korea has said in recent days Pyongyang may be positioning itself for a return to the bargaining table.
But a senior diplomat who spoke to reporters here said administration officials are cautious about the significance of the decision to accept the U.S. briefing.
He said even for experts, assessing North Korean intentions is an exercise in reading tea-leaves.