- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 25, 2005

From combined dispatches

SEOUL — The U.S. ambassador to Seoul, who had labeled Pyongyang “a criminal regime,” has told a South Korean broadcaster that North Korea should not make Washington’s financial crackdown on it an excuse to delay talks on its nuclear program.

The United States is committed to the six-party talks and wants Pyongyang to return to the discussions about ending its nuclear program, Alexander Vershbow, the U.S. ambassador to South Korea, said in an interview with SBS TV aired yesterday.

The United States has clamped down on several North Korean companies that it suspects of being involved in counterfeiting, money laundering and the drug trade and says the illicit business had helped fund Pyongyang’s nuclear-weapons program.

North Korea says such accusations are part of a U.S. plot to topple the country’s communist system. It has said that the financial crackdown made it impossible to resume the talks, which involve the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States.

Mr. Vershbow said the United States has evidence that North Korean authorities had been involved in counterfeiting dollars, but he did not elaborate.

Mr. Vershbow’s comments were aired after they were translated into Korean, and the English transcript of the program was not available.

A public relations official at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul could not confirm the comments.

Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency said yesterday that the North would have to raise its “nuclear deterrent” capability when faced with what it calls U.S. hostile policy.

“The U.S. is escalating its offensive to stifle the DPRK,” KCNA said, citing a spokesman at North Korea’s Central Committee of the Democratic Front for the Reunification of the Fatherland.

“It is quite natural for the DPRK to bolster up its capability for self-defense, including nuclear deterrent, to protect its dignity and sovereignty.”

DPRK stands for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, North Korea’s official name. North Korea has accused Washington’s top envoy to Seoul of slandering the communist country and has called him a “tyrant,” a news report said yesterday.

Mr. Vershbow labeled the North a “criminal regime” this month, citing accusations of arms dealing, money laundering and counterfeiting.

Since then, North Korea repeatedly has called on the South to expel Mr. Vershbow.

“It is clear [Mr. Vershbow] is a tyrant wearing the mask of a diplomat,” the North’s Rodong Sinmun newspaper said in a commentary yesterday, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.

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