North Korea demands U.S. lifts financial sanctions

North Korea said Tuesday that multinational talks on eliminating its nuclear weapons programs won't resume unless the United States lifts financial sanctions against the communist country. In October, Washington slapped sanctions on eight North Korean companies it said acted as fronts for the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The United States also suspects North Korea of counterfeiting and money-laundering. North Korea denies the allegations.

"It is our position that the six-way talks cannot be resumed amid challenging U.S. sanctions," the North's official Rodong Sinmun said in a Korean-language commentary carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.

The nuclear talks, launched in 2003, involve China, the United States, the two Koreas, Japan and Russia. Their fifth and latest session took a recess in November with no signs of progress on persuading the North to disarm.

North Korea says Washington agreed in the last round of talks in Beijing to hold "negotiations" on the sanctions. The U.S. denies making such an offer.

"The U.S. should take substantial steps to lift financial sanctions on our country at an early date as agreed upon in the fifth round of talks if the U.S. wants the resumption of nuclear talks and their progress," the newspaper said.

The commentary also called on the U.S. to not take any actions that would impede the progress of the six-way nuclear talks, saying that the sanctions are part of a U.S. conspiracy to win concessions from the North on the nuclear issue.

At the fourth session of the talks in September, the communist state agreed to abandon its nuclear programs in exchange for aid and security assurances, but it quickly backpedaled on the pledge by demanding it be provided with a civilian nuclear reactor before disarming.

On Saturday, South Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Song Min-soon, the country's top nuclear negotiator, said the North and the U.S. should meet to resolve the dispute over the sanctions, emphasizing that a solution can be found.

Song said he would discuss a timetable for resuming the nuclear talks with the other participants this week. The parties agreed at the end of the fifth session to meet again at an early, though unspecified, date.

Song also hinted he would try to mediate between the North and the United States, saying South Korea's "role is to make sure that the North-U.S. row won't affect the six-party talks."

Unification Minister Chung Dong-young, the South Korean official responsible for relations with North Korea, said Monday he would urge the North to faithfully implement the September agreement during inter-Korean Cabinet-level talks scheduled for Dec. 13-16, reports the AP. I.L.

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