US, N.Korea provisionally agree to hold talks

The United States and North Korea have agreed in principle to hold talks on a dispute over US financial restrictions against the communist regime in the week starting January 22, South Korea's foreign minister said Sunday. Song Min-soon made the remark after arriving from Washington, where he held talks with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Friday. The financial dispute was the main stumbling block that deadlocked last month's six-nation talks on North Korea's nuclear programs. The North insisted that Washington lift the financial restrictions first before disarmament discussions begin in earnest. Washington slapped the restrictions against a Macau-based bank holding North Korean accounts for Pyongyang's alleged involvement in counterfeiting and money laundering. That led to a freezing of the North's assets at the bank worth around $24 million. North Korea says the sanctions are evidence of Washington's "hostile policy" and indicate its intention to overthrow the regime and the North therefore needs nuclear weapons for protection. Washington has denied it intends to invade the country, and says the restrictions are a law enforcement matter unconnected to the nuclear issue.