U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill walks to the departure hall after speaking to journalists, at Beijing airport November 1, 2006. Six-party talks aimed at reining in North Korea ‘s nuclear programme must achieve progress in the next round, Hill said on Wednesday before leaving China.
North Korea said Wednesday that it was returning to nuclear disarmament talks to get access to its frozen overseas bank accounts, a vital source of hard currency.
The North’s Foreign Ministry made only indirect mention of its underground nuclear detonation last month. Instead, it focused in an official statement on its desire to end U.S. financial restrictions by going back to six-nation arms talks that it has boycotted for a year.
Confirming other nations’ reports of the Tuesday agreement, the North’s Foreign Ministry said Pyongyang decided to return to negotiations “on the premise that the issue of lifting financial sanctions will be discussed and settled between the (North) and the U.S. within the framework of the six-party talks.”
Washington had banned transactions between American financial institutions and Banco Delta Asia SARL â€” a bank in the Chinese territory of Macau â€” saying it was being used by North Korea for money-laundering.
The ban is believed to have blocked access to some $24 million for the North’s leaders, who indulge their taste for luxury goods like cognac and fine wines while the vast majority of North Koreans live in poverty.
U.S. officials also sought to rally other countries to prevent the North from doing business abroad, saying all transactions involving Pyongyang were suspected of having to do with counterfeiting and money laundering.
In Seoul, South Korean Vice Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan said that he expects involved countries to discuss the disarmament talks when they gather in Vietnam for an Asia-Pacific summit in mid-November, and that negotiations among China, Japan, Russia, the United States and the two Koreas were expected to take place after that. He did not indicate when.
The top U.S. nuclear negotiator said that the negotiations should start as early as possible.
A North Korean soldier salutes to his senior soldiers at the truce village of Panmunjom in the demilitarized zone (DMZ) that separates the two Koreas since the Korean War, north of Seoul, Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2006. North Korea affirmed Wednesday it would return to nuclear disarmament talks to seek a resolution of a U.S. campaign aimed at choking the communist nation’s access to foreign banks.
No gurantees that Washington will TOLERATE North Korean counterfeiting of American currency but these financial sanctions have worked. Negotiations and talks are always preferable to bellicose nuclear demonstrations. Trust, but verify.
In the meantime the United States should proceed with post haste to build strategic and tactical missile defenses against North Korea. This will include expanding Japan’s anti-nuclear missile defense umbrella at sea and land.
Was this a diplomatic victory for President Bush?
Will the talks be successful?
Well, if not, Washington should increasingly tighten sanctions. No more caviar and wine/liquor for Kim Jong-Il. Also, existing United Nations sanctions/resolutions must be enforced until North Korea stands down their nuclear program – as they have promised.