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U.S. sanctions on N.K. taking shape

Regional Forum denounces Cheonan attack

The new sanctions the U.S. has pledged against North Korea are taking shape with Washington now out to staunch most financial transactions to and from the North.

“This time around, it’s going to be a surgical strike,” said one high-ranking government official on the condition of anonymity.

The new set of sanctions that U.S. Secretary Hillary Clinton committed to earlier this week would consist of calling on more countries to cooperate to stop the flow of money to and from North Korean leadership or companies that appear to be illegal.

The State Department’s Special Advisor for Nonproliferation and Arms Control Robert Einhorn is to visit Seoul in early August to fine tune the details.

The U.S., however, seems unlikely to pinpoint banks or other financial institutions with accounts that appear to be having illicit transactions with North Korea.

Those close to the matter said Washington will review the accounts -- it reportedly is scrutinizing over 100 accounts related to North Korea -- to detect illegal transactions and freeze their assets.

“If there is proof, even the banks in China will have to cooperate,” said the government official.

North Korea is seen to have opened most of its accounts in China and Europe.

A report to the U.N. Security Council by its panel of experts said the North has 37 accounts overseas, with around half of them in China.

China currently maintains close relations with Pyongyang, mostly for reasons of self-interest and regional stability. 

Top diplomats including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and North Korean Foreign Minister Pak Ui-chun (bottom right) attend the ASEAN Regional Forum in Hanoi on Friday.                                                                                                                                            Yonhap News
Top diplomats including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and North Korean Foreign Minister Pak Ui-chun (bottom right) attend the ASEAN Regional Forum in Hanoi on Friday.                                                                                                                                            Yonhap News

Following the announcement of the new sanctions, Hong Kong financial authorities have reportedly launched an investigation into the possibility of illicit transactions by overseas funds operated by Pyongyang.

The U.S. stressed that these measures were aimed at the North Korean leadership and would be reversed as soon as the North commits to denuclearization in a sincere manner.

At a regional forum in Hanoi, Vietnam, where top diplomats including those from the two Koreas attended, North Korea appeared to be fairly low key in its response to continued calls from Seoul for Pyongyang to take responsibility for the Cheonan.

South Korea has concluded that the reclusive regime was culpable for sinking the ship on March 26, killing 46 of the sailors aboard. 

Officials participating in the ASEAN Regional Forum said North Korea demanded the investigation results on the ship’s sinking be verified.

“Pyongyang also called for the restart of the stalled six-way talks,” said a Vietnamese government official.

China supported those calls, he added.

The North, since the U.N. Security Council issued a presidential statement that denounced the attack but not North Korea itself, has been calling for the revival of the discussions.

The talks were halted after the North said it would “permanently” quit them last year.

In a draft of the chairman’s statement that the forum was scheduled to issue later on Friday, the foreign ministers expressed “deep concerns” over the sinking of the Cheonan.

The draft also supported the related U.N. Security Council statement.

There had been concerns that the forum members would fail to throw much weight behind South Korea’s efforts to gather together as much international support as possible for the sinking of the Cheonan.

Members of ASEAN, many of whom have close ties with North Korea, had seemed reticent to appear too harsh on the reclusive regime.

The ASEAN Regional Forum is Asia’s largest annual security conference that brings together foreign ministers from 27 members.

By Kim Ji-hyun  (jemmie@heraldcorp.com ) 

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