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Hope afloat for North Korea Talks
Lee Jong-Heon, United Press International
Seoul, Korea
November 21, 2006

Original Article from the United Press International

Hopes are cautiously running high for the resumption of the long-stalled international talks aimed at dismantling North Korea's nuclear weapons program as early as next month after Washington offered new incentives to the communist country.

The top U.S. nuclear envoy met his Chinese counterpart in Beijing on Tuesday to speed up preparations for the reopening of the six-nation nuclear talks, which also involve the two Koreas, Russia and Japan.

Meeting with reporters, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said he expected the next round of the six-nation talks to take place in mid-December.

"I believe we will have six-party talks, probably by the middle of December," Hill said before leaving Beijing after two-day meetings with Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei to discuss preparations to resume these talks. Hill was in Beijing late last month to meet his counterparts from North Korea and China, during which he won Pyongyang's promise to return to the six-nation talks, though it was on the premise that U.S.-led financial sanctions on the North would be discussed.

According to diplomatic sources, Hill is likely to travel to Seoul on his way to Washington to meet his South Korean counterpart.

Earlier, Seoul's nuclear envoy Chun Yung-woo forecast the next round of six-way talks before mid-December. "When the six-party talks are resumed, it's important to confirm the North's intention to scrap its nuclear programs," South Korea's chief nuclear delegate said in a local radio program.

Japan's Foreign Minister Taro Aso also said his country wants six-nation talks to resume before next month's meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations that begins Dec. 8. "We are trying to make it happen as soon as possible," Aso told reporters.

North Korea has boycotted the six-party talks since November last year after the United States slapped restrictions on the Macau-based bank accused of laundering money for North Korea.

Under the U.S. measure, Banco Delta Asia has frozen $24 million of North Korea's holdings in some 50 accounts and cut off transactions with Pyongyang.

The North has called for the United States to lift the measure on BDA in a show of trust before seeking progress on nuclear matters, a demand rejected by Washington which said the financial issue is not relevant to the nuclear talks but a matter to be handled by law enforcement authorities.

But there is a possibility that the United States would unfreeze part of the North Korean accounts in the Macau bank to lure Pyongyang back to the negotiating table.

Seoul's Yonhap News Agency reported Monday that China has lifted its freeze on some North Korean accounts in the Macau bank, citing a diplomatic source in Beijing.

BDA denied the report, saying the North Korean funds remain frozen. But the United States is expected to unfreeze North Korean accounts believed to be unrelated to its financial crimes in order to seek progress in the upcoming nuclear negotiations.

The United States has already dangled a set of carrots for North Korea, including security guarantees and economic aid.

In the summit with South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun in Hanoi over the weekend, President George W. Bush said the United States was willing to declare the formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War and establish a peace treaty, if North Korea abandons its nuclear weapons programs, according to South Korean officials.

The United States, as the representative of 16-nation U.N. forces, is a signatory to the 1953 armistice agreement that technically ended the conflict. The peninsula still remains in a state of war as the hostilities ended without a peace treaty. The proposed end to the war is seen as a step toward concluding a peace treaty.

North Korea has long called for the conclusion of a peace treaty with the United States to replace the armistice mechanism, saying it is essential to end the nuclear standoff.

The North's call is widely believed to be part of Pyongyang's efforts to remove some 30,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea since the war. In line with the strategy, Pyongyang has recently come up with a demand to transform the six-way nuclear talks into an overall arms reduction negotiation that would also deal with the reduction of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

Some analysts in Seoul say the new U.S. proposal could induce the North into giving up its nuclear drive because a peace treaty would be a guarantee for the North Korean security.

"North Korea is likely to abandon its nuclear program if it concludes a peace treaty with the United States," said Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea specialist at Dongguk University.

Original Article from the United Press International

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