The Bush administration Monday rejected a North Korean demand that it lift financial sanctions against Pyongyang as a condition for resuming six-party nuclear talks. The State Department says the nuclear issue, and the sanctions imposed for alleged illegal North Korean financial activity, are unrelated.
The State Department says U.S. penalties imposed for alleged North Korean counterfeiting of American currency and other illegal activity are based on solid evidence and will remain.
It is calling on Pyongyang to make good on a commitment it made in November to return to the multi-lateral talks on its nuclear program at an early date without preconditions.
The remarks follow a commentary carried by the official North Korean news agency Monday which said it would impossible for Pyongyang to resume talks on abandoning what was termed its "nuclear deterrent," while U.S. sanctions remain in place.
The North Korean statement said the U.S. penalties are the fundamental element disrupting the six-party talks.
The North Korean comments were the strongest to date concerning U.S. penalties imposed in September against a bank in the Chinese territory of Macau alleged to be a front for North Korean counterfeiting.
A few weeks later, similar penalties were levied against eight North Korean business entities for alleged trafficking in illicit military technologies.
At a news briefing, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said that when the last round of six-party talks ended in Beijing in November, North Korea agreed with other participants that the negotiations should resume early this year.
He said North Korea should abide by that pledge regardless of the sanctions, which he said the United States was justified in imposing in order to protect its financial interests. "We are going to continue to take those steps, and we believe that any other country would take steps to protect itself, to act to prevent or stop illicit activity, whether that's counterfeiting or whether that's money-laundering, or engaging in drug trafficking, or the trafficking in illicit military technologies. The United States is going to take actions to prevent that. That is whole and apart from the issue of the six-party talks\," he said.
Monday's North Korean commentary contained a broad denial of U.S. charges of illegal activity.
McCormack said the U.S. penalties, imposed under the anti-terrorist Patriot Act, were the result of a careful examination of evidence by the Treasury Department in coordination with other U.S. government agencies.
U.S. officials have alleged that North Korea has been engaged in the manufacture of high-quality counterfeit 100-dollar bills -- so-called "super notes" that are difficult for even experts to distinguish from the real thing.
In comments last week, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said President Bush is not going to allow North Korea to counterfeit U.S. money without action. She noted the absence of protests from other countries about the fact, in her words, "that we are engaged in trying to constrain those illicit activities."
The six-party talks involve Russia, Japan, South Korea and host China as well as the United States and North Korea.
In September, the participants reached an agreement in principle under which North Korea would give up its weapons efforts and other aspects of its nuclear program in exchange for economic and diplomatic benefits.
But a subsequent brief round in Beijing in November ended inconclusively, with Pyongyang accusing the United States of spoiling the atmosphere for the negotiations with its sanctions.