N. Korea not serious in nuke talks US envoy

Iran Materials 22 December 2006 12:34 (UTC +04:00)

(AP) - The U.S. envoy to talks on dismantling North Korea's nuclear weapons program said Friday that there were no signs of a breakthrough and accused the communist state of not being serious about the negotiations, reports Trend.

Asked if there were any indications of a breakthrough ahead of the last day of talks Friday, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said, "No, I am not aware of any."

After four days of negotiations in the wake of North Korea's Oct. 9 nuclear test, the North has refused to get into substantive discussions on its atomic weapons, envoys said. Instead, the North has complained about the U.S. blacklisting a Macau bank, where the regime allegedly laundered money to help fund its weapons programs.

"When the DPRK raises problems, one day it's financial issues, another day it's something they want but they know they can't have, another day it's something we said about them that hurt their feelings," Hill said. DPRK stands for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the North's official name.

"What they need to do is to get serious about the issue that made them such a problem ... their nuclear activities," he said.

Japanese envoy Kenichiro Sasae delivered a similar assessment late Thursday. "The situation remains severe and there is no prospect for a breakthrough," he said. "North Korea's claims and its position on financial issues are very firm and inflexible and that is the biggest cause of the difficulty."

Sasae said Friday that delegates at the closing meeting would would consider dropping the current format involving six countries.

"There will be opinions questioning the credibility of the six-party talks," Sasae said, without elaborating. He did not say what alternative formats would be proposed, if any.

In comments Thursday, Hill said the financial restrictions were a defense against weapons proliferation, warning Pyongyang would find itself further economically isolated if it doesn't disarm.

He said that the North Korean delegation had apparently been instructed to resolve the financial issue before talking about nuclear weapons.

While insisting the financial restrictions were separate from the six-nation arms talks, he acknowledged they were a means to defend against nuclear proliferation.

"We need to protect ourselves in a variety of different ways and we need to make sure that the international financial system is not easily available to countries that are involved in nuclear weapons programs," Hill said Thursday evening.

"There's one thing that anyone involved in denuclearization can predict, that as long as (the North Koreans) stay in this nuclear business, they're going to have more and more and more financial problems," he said.

In Washington, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said North Korea had given the United States no reason to believe it is serious about dismantling its nuclear weapons. "That's what we're testing" in the disarmament talks, she said in an Associated Press interview Thursday.

American and North Korean experts consulted on the financial restrictions for two days this week in Beijing separately from the nuclear talks, but made no breakthroughs and were possibly meeting again next month in New York.

Hill noted he had traveled five times to Beijing since the nuclear test to lay the groundwork for this week's negotiations, which he has said should focus on implementing a September 2005 disarmament pledge by North Korea.

"I would like to see them engage a little more in what we are talking about," he said of the North Koreans. "We've done a lot of work in the last few weeks and we'd like to see the (North Korean) delegation match that amount of work and show they're looking at the proposals."

Hill would not talk about specific incentives the U.S. has offered the North at this week's talks ? which include China, Japan, Russia, the U.S. and the two Koreas ? but the earlier agreement outlines possibilities such as diplomatic recognition, aid and economic cooperation.

The North has maintained it needs nuclear weapons because of the "hostile" policy of the United States, citing issues including the financial campaign, criticism of North Korea's human rights record and U.S.-South Korean joint military exercises.

Meanwhile, a South Korean lawmaker said Thursday there were signs North Korea could conduct another nuclear test.

Rep. Chung Hyung-keun of the main opposition Grand National Party, a former intelligence official, said North Korea dug two underground tunnels at a mountain in the country's northeast and used one of them for its earlier nuclear test.

"There has been brisk activity since this month" at the other tunnel, he said.