BERLIN - The United States
and North Korea held a second day of bilateral talks on Wednesday, raising hopes
of a breakthrough in efforts to curb the nation's nuclear weapons program.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-il (C) inspects the Korean
People's Army Unit 593 at an undisclosed location in North Korea in this
photo released by the Korea Central News Agency on January 16, 2007.
[Korea News Service/Reuters]
Envoys from the two sides, who met for six hours on Tuesday and another 1-1/2
hours on Wednesday, were planning to hold a third round of discussions in the
German capital on Thursday, US Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill
However, State Department spokesman Tom Casey later told reporters in
Washington he did not expect Hill to meet with the North Koreans again in Berlin
or in Seoul, Beijing or Tokyo -- the next stops during his current trip.
The bilateral meetings explored how to resume six-party talks that aim to
persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions. Those talks, last held in
December, include the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States
"We want to make sure that the next round of six-party talks is fully
prepared so that we can make progress there," US Secretary of State Condoleezza
Rice told reporters in Berlin, where she was to meet German Chancellor Angela
Merkel and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
"(This) should help to prepare the way for a more favorable atmosphere at the
time of the resumption of the six-party talks, which we hope would be soon," she
A State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told
reporters in Washington he hoped these talks could begin by the end of the month
or soon after but said there was no certainty until they actually happened.
Officials said Washington's willingness to talk directly with Pyongyang -- as
North Korea has long demanded -- suggests it may be ready to compromise over a
crackdown on North Korea's finances, despite a nuclear test by Pyongyang in
Russia's new chief negotiator at the six-party talks put pressure on
Washington to scrap its financial penalties.
"The United States should make some steps toward the (North) Koreans by
lifting financial sanctions," Alexander Losyukov told RIA news agency.
Hill met his North Korean counterpart, Kim Kye-gwan, at the latter's embassy
in Berlin but declined comment when he left.
Earlier, Hill said he hoped the six-party talks would resume in January. But
he indicated that Pyongyang had still not made a decision to abandon its nuclear
"The North Koreans have to decide if they want nuclear weapons or if they
want a place in the international community," he said in a speech organized by
the American Academy in Berlin.
Hill declined to give details on the substance of Tuesday's talks but
described them as "useful discussions." He played down suggestions the bilateral
talks might strike a deal.
"It's very important that any negotiating or deal-making needs to be done in
the six-party process," Hill said.
Former US negotiator Charles Pritchard called Hill's meetings with the North
Koreans "Clintonesque" -- alluding to the many bilateral US-North Korean
meetings under former US President Bill Clinton -- and said "they are not, by
the Bush administration's definition, a part of the six-party process."
"What Hill is doing with the North Koreans is what everybody else had been
doing -- the Chinese, the South Koreans -- and that is an element of shuttle
diplomacy," Pritchard said. "He is trying to convince the North Koreans, who
control the agenda, the timing and the pace of the talks, that now is the right
time to come back to the talks."
Several officials in Washington told Reuters the Bush administration was now
inclined to resolve the dispute over North Korea's accounts at a Macau bank,
which it has called "a willing pawn" in North Korea's illicit financial deals.
South Korean Foreign Minister Song Min-soon said the meeting should bring the
two sides closer to implementing a September 2005 deal to end Pyongyang's
nuclear arms program.
In that agreement, hammered out in the six-party talks, Pyongyang agreed to
trade its nuclear arms in exchange for economic aid and security guarantees.
The talks later bogged down over Pyongyang's complaint that a US squeeze on
its financial activities was proof of American hostility.
Washington has since agreed to meet North Korean officials separately on the
financial crackdown and may agree to the release of some of the North's frozen
funds, which are now controlled by Macau authorities, US officials said.
US and North Korean finance officials are to resume their talks next week in
either New York or Beijing, Hill said.
US authorities are scrutinizing a number of North Korean accounts at the
Macau bank to see if funds from the North's legitimate business can be separated
from illicit cash flow, US officials said.
Firms, among them British American Tobacco, have said some of the funds
frozen at the Macau bank are legitimate. North Korea has said unfreezing the
funds is a condition to serious talks on implementing the 2005