Talks continue on North Korean weapons issue21/12/2006 - 08:03:11
The US envoy to talks on North Korea's nuclear weapons today urged the communist nation to focus on dismantling its bombs.
US Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill fears that North Korea could divert the negotiations with complaints about Washington's measures against Pyongyang's alleged financial crimes.
As negotiations entered a fourth day, Mr Hill said the North's October 9 nuclear test showed that denuclearising the regime is a "very urgent problem".
"I'd rather not obscure that urgent problem by talking about finances," he said.
"It is difficult to engage (the North Koreans) on the other subjects when they have come in with a very strong view on the financial issue. … This is a challenge that we face."
North Korea has made the US financial campaign its main condition for disarming, angered by Washington blacklisting a Macau bank for its complicity in North Korea's alleged illegal financial activity, including counterfeiting and money laundering.
The North agreed to end a 13-month boycott of the six-nation nuclear talks because the US promised to discuss the issue.
American and North Korean experts consulted on the financial restrictions for two days this week in Beijing separately from the nuclear talks, but they made no breakthroughs and might meet again next month in New York.
The North has maintained it needs nuclear weapons due to the "hostile" policy of the US, citing everything from the financial campaign to criticism of North Korea's human rights to US-South Korean joint military exercises.
At the nuclear talks, North Korea won't consider US offers of a written security guarantee and economic aid as "real proof of the US withdrawing its hostile policy", a pro-Pyongyang newspaper reported Thursday, citing diplomatic sources at the negotiations.
Instead, the North said the financial restrictions had to be lifted to prove the US has changed its stance, therefore allowing the isolated country to abandon its nuclear weapons, according to the Japan-based Chosun Sinbo daily, which is allied with the communist regime.
"North Korea has yet to show its position on the US proposal, but it is clear that North Korea can act only when the US shows it has withdrawn its hostile policy toward North Korea in action, not just in empty words," the newspaper reported.
A South Korean official confirmed Thursday that negotiators had not yet begun discussing the North's nuclear program because of Pyongyang's insistence that the US first lift the financial restrictions.
The US has told North Korea all the concessions it can offer, "even those to be made in the final stage", but the North hasn't responded yet, the official said on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the ongoing talks.
The official didn't reveal specifics about the US proposals to the North, but said the Americans have become more "active".
The US envoy Hill insisted the sides must quickly putting into effect a September 2005 agreement in which the North pledged to disarm, and that some elements of that deal "should begin to get implemented even this week".
"By implementation, I mean we are actually affecting the situation on the ground, things are really beginning to change," Hill said.
In Tokyo, Japanese foreign minister Taro Aso demanded that North Korea abandon its nuclear ambitions first.
"North Korea's elimination of its existing nuclear weapons and plans is the starting point for the talks," Aso told a diplomatic committee of the ruling party. "Eliminating them as a result of the talks would be the wrong way around."
Hill said there were several draft proposals circulating among delegates but he refused to give details.
No session of all six countries was planned for today, and they were instead scheduling one-on-one meetings.
The talks - including China, Japan, Russia, the US and the two Koreas - are to continue until at least tomorrow.
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