North Korea talks resume leaving low hopes for progress

A new round of six-party talks aimed at persuading North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons opened in Beijing on Monday after more than a year’s gap, but hopes for substantial progress remained low.

The talks, between North and South Koreas, United States, China, Japan and Russia, are the first since Pyongyang walked away from negotiations September last year in protest against US financial sanctions, and the first since the reslusive regime conducted its first nuclear test in October.

North Korea ’s nuclear test drew international condemnation and alienated its traditionally closest ally, China .

But nuclear issues are likely to be some way down Pyongyang’s agenda for discussion, as it has said its priority is ending US financial sanctions that have led to its bank accounts in Macao being frozen and have, in effect, shut it even further out of the international banking system.

US Treasury department officials are set to discuss the financial measures in a working group on the margins of the talks. But Stuart Levey, the undersecretary in charge of the investigation into US allegations that North Korea was laundering money through a bank in Macao, is not attending the talks, Financial Times reports.

Many officials say the talks this week are unlikely to draw swift compromise from the North Korean government, which some say has been emboldened by its nuclear test.

South Korea’s chief representative, Chun Yung-woo, said the talks would be “exploratory.” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said earlier that the talks were part of a process that could not be judged by one session.

The North’s chief representative, Kim Kye-gwan, showed no softening on the eve of talks, telling Washington to drop financial restrictions if it wanted the 2005 statement carried out.

North Korea boycotted the six-nation talks for more than a year, angered over a financial crackdown by the United States, which accused the North Koreans of counterfeiting and money laundering.

Treasury officials from Washington will meet the North Koreans in Beijing this week to discuss those issues, the New York Times reports.

North Korea will likely ask that the U.S. lift financial sanctions, provide security guarantees, and ask for food and energy aid, said Koh Yu Hwan, professor of North Korean studies at Seoul 's Dongguk University .

Quinones said the communist state may also reiterate last year's demands for two commercial light-water reactors, a project abandoned by the U.S. and its allies after North Korea acknowledged in 2002 it had reneged on its earlier promise and was secretly developing nuclear weapons.

It may also demand that the U.S. open up its bases in South Korea to prove it hasn't deployed any nuclear weapons.

The issue of U.S. financial sanctions will be taken up with the North Koreans by a separate working group in Beijing. The U.S. side will be led by Daniel Glaser, a Treasury Department deputy assistant secretary for terrorist financing and financial crimes, Hill said yesterday in Beijing. The department in October 2005 targeted North Korea's $24 million accounts in Macau's Banco Delta Asia SARL, Bloomberg reports.

Source: agencies

Prepared by Alexander Timoshik

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Author`s name Alex Naumov