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US envoy Christopher Hill on Saturday rejected North Korea's demand that Washington lift financial measures against the regime, but he backed a Chinese proposal for an informal meeting of countries involved in six-party talks on Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program.
Hill was in Seoul on a tour of regional capitals in to coordinate the international response to the North's test-firing of seven missiles on Wednesday. The tests sparked widespread criticism of the regime, but the US is split with China and Russia over whether to punish Pyongyang.
Beijing, where Hill held meetings on Friday, has floated the idea of the members of the six-party talks - the two Koreas, China, Russia, Japan and the US - hold an informal meeting on the standoff. Pyongyang is currently boycotting the formal six-nation talks held in Beijing.
Hill said the US and South Korea backed the idea.
North Korea has boycotted the those talks for months in protest on the crackdown, and has refused to return until the punitive measures are lifted. Washington, however, has argued that the two issues are separate and should not be linked.
Hill, speaking after a meeting with Chun Young-woo, South Korea's top negotiator in international nuclear talks, also insisted the two allies would not be split over their response to the missile tests.
"What we're not going to do is allow the ... missile launches to divide us," Hill told reporters. "These missile launches have actually brought us closer together and we're going to work very closely together in the weeks ahead."
The North in recent days has remained defiant, defending its right to test missiles and saying the launches could continue. Pyongyang has also threatened to take "stronger" measures against anyone who tries to stop further tests.
North Korean media devoted coverage Saturday to the 12th anniversary of the death of President Kim Il Sung, the national founder who was succeeded by his son, Kim Jong Il, in communism's first hereditary transfer of power. The late Kim, who died on July 8, 1994 at the age of 82, is revered in the North and his portrait adorns government buildings and many homes.
Meanwhile, a draft UN resolution on sanctions against Pyongyang could be put to a vote next week, as regional powers moved to coordinate their response.
South Korea's Yonhap news agency early Saturday quoted a North Korean diplomat as saying North Korea is willing to return to the six-nation talks if it is allowed to withdraw its money frozen in accounts of a bank blacklisted by the United States.
Han Song Ryol, deputy chief of North Korea's mission to the United Nations in New York, made the remark, renewing the North's long-standing demand that the US lift financial restrictions imposed on a Macau bank for allegedly aiding the North's illicit activities.
"Removing the freeze on Macau funds is the minimum threshold to resumption of talks," Han said. "If there is such a will, then how we talk, whether bilaterally or through six-party talks, is not important."
Chun, the South Korean negotiator, said in Seoul that North Korea's demand for the financial restrictions to be lifted was "unrealistic" and urged the North not to link the issue to the six-party nuclear talks.
Japan and the United States have led an effort for the UN to impose sanctions, but China and Russia have called for softer measures. On Friday, Japan circulated a draft resolution that would order countries to "take those steps necessary" to keep the North from acquiring items that could be used for its missile program. Diplomats said the UN Security Council would take up the issue on Monday.