Thursday, December 21, 2006

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday rejected a North Korean attempt at the six-nation nuclear talks in Beijing to link the negotiations to U.S. financial sanctions imposed last year for purported money laundering and counterfeiting of U.S. currency.

With the latest round of talks slated to end today, the North Korean delegation said it would not negotiate the nuclear issue until curbs on a Macau bank holding North Korean accounts are lifted, diplomats said.

“We’ve been very clear that these are two separate issues,” Miss Rice told reporters in Washington after a meeting with Canadian Foreign Minister Peter Mackey.

“We cannot be diverted from what we need to do in the six-party talks, which is to have the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” she said.

U.S. Treasury officials met Tuesday and Wednesday with North Korean representatives to discuss the financial sanctions, also in Beijing, but in a different building from the venue of the nuclear talks.

Christopher Hill, the chief U.S. negotiator at the six-party talks, said he planned to leave China on schedule tomorrow, even if the talks remain deadlocked.

“We are trying as hard as we can to get this done,” he said. “But we are not prepared for a situation where somehow we pretend that they are doing things and they pretend to disarm and we pretend to believe them. This has to be real.”

The penalties on Macau’s Banco Delta Asia (BDA), which the Bush administration called a “willing pawn” in the North’s illicit activities, were put in place in September 2005.

U.S. officials say the bank was used by North Korea to distribute high-quality $100 bills it printed.

“They have had strict instructions from their capital that they cannot engage officially on the subject of six-party talks until they have the BDA issue resolved, and I made very clear, I’m not a BDA negotiator,” Mr. Hill said of the North Koreans.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the United States could not close its eyes to its currency being counterfeited, as well as to other illicit activities, even if that might help the nuclear negotiations. The two issues should not be mixed, he said.

The United States, China, Japan, South Korea and Russia are trying to persuade the North to dismantle its nuclear programs.

In a Sept. 19, 2005, statement issued at the last round of six-party talks, Pyongyang agreed in principle to end its nuclear pursuits in exchange for a series of incentives, including energy, economic aid, security guarantees and normalized relations with the United States.

But major disagreements remained on the timing and sequencing of the steps.

On Tuesday, Miss Rice said the United States favors a Chinese plan with “sets of actions” both sides must take over a period of at least several months.

The plan would not “marry up every little step,” because “the North Koreans are masters” of blaming others for what they fail to do, Miss Rice said. The North Koreans would have to “demonstrate early on” that they are serious about dismantling their nuclear program.

Mr. Hill, assistant secretary of state for Asian and Pacific affairs, said yesterday he was not ready to set a date for a future round of negotiations, but he held out a glimmer of hope that a last-minute deal could be brokered.

“These rounds — you have to judge them by the end,” he said. “It’s hard to judge them in the middle.”

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