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US Envoy Says Washington Not Interested in 'Endless' North Korea Talks Without Results

Washington's ambassador to South Korea says the United States and its partners will be patient in the diplomatic process with North Korea, but that Pyongyang should not expect an open-ended process that does not yield progress. U.S. leaders say they want major aspects of a North Korean denuclearization pledge implemented by the time President Bush leaves office. VOA's Kurt Achin has more from Seoul.

U.S. Ambassador Alexander Vershbow says Washington is willing to keep engaging Pyongyang at the diplomatic table, but he warns that talks alone are not enough.

"We're not looking for endless talks without results," he said. "We would like to achieve results as soon as possible - in the financial discussions, and in the central arena, the discussions on denuclearization."

Vershbow made the comments Tuesday evening at an academic forum in Seoul.

U.S. Treasury officials are meeting this week in Beijing with North Korean officials to discuss Washington's financial sanctions on the North. Six-nation talks aimed at ending Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programs resume next week in the Chinese capital.

Although Washington says the financial talks and the nuclear talks are not linked, most experts say in reality North Korea has succeeded in forcing a linkage between the two.

The financial talks deal with the blacklisting of a bank in Macau that Washington says aided North Korean counterfeiting and laundering money. Washington imposed the sanctions in September 2005, just days after North Korea signed a pledge with China, Russia, Japan, the United States and South Korea to dismantle its nuclear capabilities.

Pyongyang responded by walking away from the nuclear talks for more than a year.

Washington says the banking sanctions are a law enforcement matter, unconnected to the nuclear issue, and that the only way out of the sanctions is for North Korea to demonstrate its days of illegal financing are over. However, Pyongyang, which denies any wrongdoing, only returned to the nuclear talks in December after Washington agreed to discuss the financial issue.

Ambassador Vershbow says there should be significant progress toward implementing North Korea's 2005 pledge before President Bush leaves office in January 2009.

"We certainly are hoping to achieve a complete solution before that particular term is up - and we think that's doable, that there's no reason for the implementation of the joint statement to take any longer than that," he said.

Vershbow praised South Korea for responding firmly to Pyongyang's October test of a nuclear device by withholding most aid to its impoverished neighbor. Seoul and Washington have differed over the past few years on how to deal with Pyongyang. The Bush administration is uncomfortable with South Korea's engagement policy aimed at coaxing the communist North into opening up more to the world.

The ambassador in his speech also said the relations between Seoul and Washington, two long-time allies is strong and capable of adjusting to new challenges.

The U.S.-North Korea financial talks are expected to continue at least through Wednesday.