From news reports
South Korea and the United States plan to ask North Korea to shut down its main nuclear facilities once the six-way talks on Pyongyang`s atomic weapons program are resumed, a report said yesterday.
The new round of talks is widely expected to restart early next month, with some Japanese media reporting a fixed date of Feb. 8.
Participants in the talks - the U.S., the two Koreas, China, Russia and Japan - were in agreement that the focus should be on implementing a 2005 pact in which North Korea pledged to disarm in return for aid and security guarantees, South Korean Foreign Minister Song Min-soon said on his way back from Beijing Friday.
There have been wide media speculations on what the initial steps will be, with North Korea reportedly willing to freeze its graphite-moderated reactor in Yongbyon and other main nuclear facilities.
"We want the shutdown of those facilities, not just the freezing or suspension of their operations," a government source was quoted by Yonhap news agency yesterday. "It means South Korea, the U.S., and other participants in the six-way talks want to make it difficult for North Korea to pull the plug on the facilities and switch them on again later."
North Korea will also be urged to begin the process of dismantling its nuclear program within several months if it reaches a concrete compromise in the forthcoming talks, the source added.
Song, who was Seoul`s former nuclear envoy, was in China last week for talks with senior Chinese officials on how to advance the nuclear talks and other bilateral issues.
Song and his Chinese counterpart, Li Zhaoxing, agreed to cooperate in seeking a "new breakthrough" at the talks, which would involve a written list of initial steps for implementing the 2005 deal, according to South Korean media.
However, Song said he wasn`t sure whether an agreement could be reached at the next round of talks. The nuclear disarmament talks are expected to resume as early as Feb. 8.
The United States is considering the partial lifting of its financial curbs on a Macau bank at the center of its standoff with North Korea, in a bid to push forward the six-way talks, a Japanese newspaper reported yesterday.
If the report is true, it would mark a turnaround in the U.S. position and raise hopes for a breakthrough in its protracted row with Pyongyang over Banco Delta Asia. The two sides are set to resume discussions between their financial experts in Beijing on Tuesday prior to a new round of nuclear talks expected to be held early next month.
The U.S. Treasury Department blacklisted the BDA in September 2005, accusing it of serving as a conduit for the North`s counterfeiting of U.S. dollars and other illicit financing activities. The measure has frozen $24 million in Pyongyang`s accounts at the bank, as well as effectively cut off the cash-strapped regime`s access to the international banking system.
North Korea has demanded the financial restrictions be lifted as a condition for progress on the nuclear issue, although the U.S. contends they are not linked.
The Yomiuri Shimbun, however, said U.S. officials have shown signs of changing their stance.
Citing congressional sources in Washington, the newspaper said the U.S. is considering unfreezing more than half of the North Korean money at the BDA.
The U.S. Treasury views at least $13 million as not related to the North`s illegal financial activities, and the State Department, eager for progress in the nuclear talks, is persuading the Treasury to ease restrictions on the "clean" money, according to the newspaper, one of the most influential media outlets in Japan.
The BDA issue has proved to be one of the biggest obstacles to progress in the six-way talks.
Financial specialists from North Korea and the U.S. had a two-day session in Beijing last month on the sidelines of the six-party nuclear talks but the both meetings ended in deadlock, with the North`s nuclear delegates prioritizing the BDA issue.
The Treasury announced last week that Daniel Glaser, deputy assistant secretary for terrorist financing and financial crimes, will meet his North Korean counterparts again from Tuesday.
"Glaser plans to continue discussions with North Korea on the international community`s concerns about illicit financial conduct, globally recognized standards for operating as a responsible member of the financial community, and the financial measures taken by the United States to combat illicit financial flows," the Treasury said.