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North Korea refuses to join talks unless US meets on sanctions
Updated: 2005-12-05 11:17

North Korea has told the United States it will not return to multinational nuclear disarmament talks until Washington allows a bilateral meeting to resolve U.S. economic sanctions against it, a Japanese newspaper reported Sunday.

Tension flared anew this week after Pyongyang condemned U.S. sanctions against firms suspected of counterfeiting and money-laundering on behalf of the North. North Korea demands Washington drop the penalty.

A senior North Korean diplomat at the United Nations in New York telephoned the U.S. government Friday, saying his country would not join the six-nation talks until the U.S. nuclear negotiator, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, meets with North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Gye Gwan, the conservative Sankei newspaper reported.

The nuclear talks _ launched in 2003 _ involve China, the United States, the two Koreas, Japan and Russia.

The unidentified North Korean diplomat accused the U.S. of "hurting the trustful relationship" between the two sides by refusing to hold negotiations with Kim, the Sankei said.

Kim canceled his U.S. trip planned for later this month after the United States said it only planned to explain, not negotiate, the sanctions issue with the North, the Sankei said.

Japanese government officials were not available for comment Sunday.

On Friday, Pyongyang accused Washington of breaking its promise _ allegedly made at the latest round of nuclear talks in Beijing _ to hold "negotiations" on the sanctions issue, and warned it could affect the nuclear talks.

Washington has rejected the claim, saying the United States has "never offered to engage in negotiations with North Korea."

North Korea's latest move reflected its disappointment over a failed attempt to achieve a direct dialogue with the United States, the Sankei said.

The fifth and latest round of nuclear talks took a recess in November with no signs of progress on how the North would disarm and what it would get in return.

After the fourth round in September, North Korea agreed to abandon its nuclear programs in exchange for aid and security assurances, but now demands it be provided with a civilian nuclear reactor before disarming.

The participants last month agreed to meet again, but didn't set a date.

On Saturday, South Korean nuclear negotiator, Deputy Foreign Minister Song Min-soon, urged Pyongyang and Washington to meet in any format to resolve the dispute. Song also hinted he would try to mediate between the North and the U.S. and suggested a preliminary meeting in South Korea's southern resort island of Jeju this month.

The Sankei said the North Korean diplomat also rejected a possible Jeju meeting.

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