Report: US, N. Korea planning bilateral talks

Meeting likely to take place in Beijing after N. Korean funds held in Macau bank are released.

s korea protest 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
s korea protest 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
The United States and North Korea are planning to hold bilateral talks as soon as a financial dispute is resolved to lay the groundwork for a resumption of six-nation nuclear negotiations, a news report said Tuesday. The meeting is likely to be held in Beijing this weekend, as North Korean money held in a US-blacklisted Macau bank is expected to be released this week, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported, citing unidentified diplomats. The financial row forced the six-nation nuclear talks to recess last month as North Korea demanded that it first receive its $25 million held in Banco Delta Asia. The money was frozen by local authorities after Washington blacklisted the small bank in the Chinese territory for alleged complicity in money laundering and other illicit activity by North Korea. The US has promised to resolve the dispute and ended its probe into the bank, paving the way for the release of the North Korean money. But technical problems have delayed money transfers to the North. Daniel Glaser, a US deputy assistant treasury secretary, has been in Beijing for more than a week attempting to settle the financial issue. In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack declined to predict when the issue would be resolved. South Korea's deputy nuclear negotiator, Lim Sung-nam, flew to Beijing on Monday to see how efforts to settle the problem are going, a Foreign Ministry official said on condition of anonymity, citing protocol. The top US and North Korean nuclear negotiators - US Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill and North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan - are expected to attend the upcoming bilateral talks, Yonhap said. Their meeting is expected to focus on US allegations that North Korea has a secret nuclear weapons program using uranium, the report said. The issue could hold up implementation of a February 13 accord in which North Korea promised to take initial steps toward dismantling its nuclear program, including closing its main nuclear reactor and providing a full list of its nuclear facilities. North Korea has publicly denied having a uranium-based weapons program. The current nuclear row began in late 2002 after the US raised the uranium suspicions. The February 13 deal, which calls for economic aid and political incentives for North Korea in exchange for disarmament steps, has drawn criticism for allegedly rewarding the hardline regime for bad behavior, including its nuclear test in October. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice defended the agreement on Monday, saying the "benefits for the North are not front-loaded as they were in prior agreements." She was referring to a 1994 accord that unraveled after the current nuclear row began. Under the current deal, North Korea is supposed to receive 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil in return for closing its main atomic reactor and 950,000 tons more if it disables its nuclear program. "So this is a big package that has a front end piece in which there's actually not that much benefit," she told the National Conference of Editorial Writers in Washington.