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US Envoy Says North Korea Talks At ‘Fork In Road’ December 17, 2006

Posted by notapundit in US News, World News.

BEIJING (AP)–The main U.S. envoy on North Korea’s nuclear program said Sunday that arms negotiations had reached a “fork in the road” between diplomacy and sanctions, and called for progress at the talks that were set to resume following the North’s atomic test after a 13-month hiatus.

Negotiators were gathering to discuss how to implement a September 2005 agreement, the only accord ever reached at the six-nation talks, where the North pledged to disarm in exchange for aid and security guarantees.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill emphasized upon his arrival in Beijing that all sides “have to take those ideas on paper and move them to the ground.”

“I hope that (North Korea) understands that, as the rest of us do, that we really are reaching a fork in the road,” Hill said. “We can either go forward on a diplomatic track or you have to go to a much more difficult track and that is a track that involves sanctions and I think ultimately will really be very harmful to the (North’s) economy.”

The U.N. Security Council passed a resolution punishing the North’s Oct. 9 nuclear test with sanctions barring its weapons trade. But it is not clear how much effect those measures have had given the North’s economic isolation and the fact that its main trading partners, China and South Korea, have so far held back from taking tough measures.

South Korea’s main envoy, Chun Yung-woo, said Sunday that the talks that have taken place sporadically since 2003 faced “more difficult conditions than other times” because of the atomic test.

Because of the long break since the last session in November 2005, he said it “won’t be easy to come up with substantial measures.”

The North has insisted on the lifting of financial restrictions against a bank where it held accounts, leading to its boycott of the last round of the nuclear talks. The U.S. blacklisted a Macau bank just before the September 2005 agreement, saying it was complicit in the Pyongyang regime’s counterfeiting of U.S. currency and money laundering to sell weapons of mass destruction.

Hill said the U.S. was prepared to discuss that subject in separate working talks here with U.S. Treasury Department officials, but emphasized that issue was separate from the main focus on denuclearizing the Korean peninsula.

However, the main North Korean negotiator Kim Kye Gwan said Saturday when arriving in Beijing that he was looking for a first step from the Americans, calling the lifting of the U.S. financial restrictions a “precondition” to the negotiations moving forward.

Hill declined to respond publicly to Kim’s demand, but emphasized that U.N. sanctions for the North’s nuclear test would remain in effect until the North’s gives up its atomic programs.

“Most of the world has told them that we don’t accept them as a nuclear state,” the U.S. diplomat said. “If they want a future with us, if they want to work with us, if they want to be a member of the international community, they’re going to have to get out of this nuclear business.”

All delegates from the six countries involved -China, Japan, Russia, the U.S. and the two Koreas -met later Sunday for dinner. No end date has been set for the negotiations, which officially start Monday, but Hill said he hoped to return to Washington by the end of the week.

Associated Press reporter Bo-mi Lim contributed to this report


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