- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 13, 2006

SEOUL — The chief U.S. negotiator with North Korea said yesterday that Washington may investigate Swiss bank accounts held by North Korean leader Kim Jong-il if the communist state refuses to rejoin six-nation talks on its nuclear weapons.

Assistant Secretary Christopher Hill, who heads the U.S. negotiating team, was asked specifically if the United States would look into $4 billion that Mr. Kim is thought to have deposited in numbered Swiss accounts.

Mr. Hill replied, “If a country pulls out of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, starts processing plutonium, announces it is going to make weapons and has ballistic missiles, it is fair to say that country is going to have its finances scrutinized.

“That’s life in the big city,” he said.

Mr. Hill also warned that proposed aid for the communist state in return for progress on nuclear weapons dismantlement would not stay on the table indefinitely.

Mr. Hill is in Asia attempting to get the six-party talks started again, but North Korea is refusing to participate unless recent financial sanctions are lifted.

Speaking to a U.S. business group in Seoul, Mr. Hill questioned North Korea’s anger over the sanctions, worth about $20 million, when potential aid worth hundreds of millions of dollars is at stake.

“Why are they holding up the talks for the sake of $20 million?” he asked.

He was referring frozen North Korean bank accounts in an investigation of money laundering at Banco Delta Asia, which is based in Macao.

Analysts say that the United States has found an effective “stick” by targeting North Korea’s international operations to obtain hard currency.

Some North Korean watchers think that Mr. Kim requires large amounts of cash to maintain the patronage of Pyongyang’s elite.

In Tokyo yesterday, North Korea’s chief nuclear negotiator, Kim Gye-kwan, told a press conference that Pyongyang would not budge on the Macao bank issue.

“There is no compromise and flexibility,” the Associated Press reported him saying. “I will go to the negotiating table the moment I seize the assets with my hands.”

Kim Gye-kwan also warned that Pyongyang was using the down time in the talks to strengthen its deterrence capabilities. North Korea often uses the term “deterrence” to refer to the nuclear weapons it claims to have successfully made.

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