North Korea sets terms to return to nuclear talks

In a rare meeting between U.S. and North Korean officials this week, North Korea pressed the United States to end efforts to stem alleged money-laundering and counterfeiting activities, warning that otherwise it would not return to the six-nation talks on its nuclear programs.

Li Gun, the senior North Korean official at the meeting, made four requests, according to a U.S. official familiar with the talks. They included demanding that the United States remove what he called "financial sanctions," form a joint U.S.-North Korean task force to examine the counterfeiting concerns, give North Korea access to the U.S. banking system, and provide North Korea with technical help on identifying counterfeit bills.

"We cannot go into the six-party talks with this hat over our head," the official quoted Li as saying.

The U.S. officials viewed the meeting as only a briefing, not a negotiation, and rejected any link between Treasury Department actions to thwart alleged counterfeiting and the six-party talks. D. Kathleen Stephens, the principal deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asia, opened the meeting, but the briefing was led by Daniel Glaser, a deputy assistant Treasury secretary.

The nearly three-hour meeting was held Tuesday in New York at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. It came as North Korea rattled nerves in Asia yesterday with a missile test, and as a senior Republican lawmaker accused the White House of giving "exceedingly constrained options to our negotiators" and urged a more creative approach, including direct talks with Pyongyang.

"The six-party process is beginning to appear moribund," declared Rep. Jim Leach (R-Iowa), chairman of the House International Relations subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific. "It's time for the United States to lead," he said, rather than "indebting us to the diplomacy of countries that may have different interests."

The nuclear talks -- which include China, Japan, South Korea and Russia -- have been on hiatus since November because of North Korean distress over the Treasury Department investigation. In September -- just as the six-party talks reached a breakthrough agreement in which North Korea said it would give up its nuclear programs in exchange for aid, security assurances and eventual normalization of relations -- the Treasury designated a Macao bank as acting as a front for North Korean counterfeiting operations, reports Washington Post.


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