A top South Korean official says he thinks the recent visit of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il to China will have a positive effect on multi-lateral talks aimed at persuading Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear-weapons programs.
South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-Moon said he has several reasons for being optimistic about the North Korean leader's trip to China.
"First of all, North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il said to Chinese leaders that he is committed to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula," he said. "And he also said that he would like to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue peacefully, through dialogue, participating in six-party talks. Therefore, we believe that his visit will have a positive impact to have six party talks move forward."
In an interview broadcast Sunday on the CNN program Late Edition, Ban added that he hopes Mr. Kim's visit to several southern Chinese economic powerhouses will have a positive effect on efforts to reform and open North Korea's society.
"He (Kim) was accompanied by many senior government officials of North Korea, including economic advisers. And he visited several Chinese cities, the modern cities of economic development like Shenzhen and Guangzhou. Those are the cities known for their success stories of economic development of China," said Ban.
U.S. officials are in Seoul to discuss allegations that North Korea is engaging in illicit financial activities, including counterfeiting U.S. currency.
Ban said Seoul also has conveyed its deep concern about illegal North Korean financial activities to authorities in Pyongyang. He said although the U.S. actions have, what he described as, an understandable law-enforcement dimension, he worried about the negative effects they can also have to ongoing nuclear disarmament efforts.
"And at the same time, we hope that this kind of counterfeiting or illicit activities by North Korea, will not be standing in the way of six-party talks," he said.
The United States has imposed sanctions on companies it suspects of aiding North Korea in counterfeiting, money laundering, and the drug trade. U.S. officials also have blacklisted eight North Korean companies in connection with weapons proliferation.
North Korea is now vowing to boycott the six-party nuclear talks until the U.S. sanctions are lifted.
The talks have been stalled since November, although there has been a recent flurry of high-level activity aimed at restarting them as early as next month.