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N Korea, US Debate Nuclear, Financial Issues
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Chief nuclear negotiators from North Korea and the US Tuesday afternoon held their first one-on-one discussions on the sidelines of the six-party talks. The high-level negotiations entered a second day yesterday with discussions focused on implementing a disarmament pledge signed by North Korea last year.


"Chief North Korean negotiator Kim Kye-gwan and his US counterpart Christopher Hill held their bilateral meeting yesterday afternoon in Diaoyutai State Guesthouse," the Chinese press center said, without releasing more details.


The atmosphere there "was not so harsh," said an anonymous Japanese official.


North Korea also met individually with China, Russia and South Korea but not Japan, a South Korean official said on condition of anonymity.


"The gap in differing opinions is being narrowed little by little," the official said. "There are still many differences, but we expect to narrow the gap even more tomorrow."


The meeting between Kim and Hill coincided with a separate meeting between the two countries' financial delegations in Beijing.


President of North Korea's Foreign Trade Bank, O Kwang-chol, held three-hour talks with Daniel Glaser, US Treasury Department's deputy assistant secretary for terrorist financing and financial crimes, at the US embassy yesterday afternoon. The meeting was held to address the US campaign to isolate North Korea from the international banking system, the key stumbling block blamed for Pyongyang's 13-month boycott of nuclear talks.


"The financial talks went on in a friendly manner, but did not produce new proposals," a South Korean official said late yesterday.


Hopeful about the financial talks, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said yesterday afternoon that "the US-North Korea sanction issue would be properly resolved through the bilateral meeting, and positive achievements might come out."


Pyongyang stayed away from the nuclear talks since November 2005, claiming Washington remained hostile to North Korea after it blacklisted a Macao bank where North Korea deposited some US$24 million.


The US alleged the bank was complicit in North Korea's counterfeiting of US$100 bills and money laundering to sell weapons of mass destruction. American officials have pressed other countries to bar North Korean accounts, slamming all the country's transactions as suspicious.


However, North Korea agreed to return to the nuclear talks shortly after its October 9 nuclear test because the US said it could discuss the financial issue in separate meetings.


It is unlikely that the US will simply remove restrictions as Pyongyang demands, since it views them as a legal matter against criminal activity.


Hailing the financial talks "a great opportunity for us to have initial exchange of views," Glaser said late yesterday that he and his North Korean counterparts will continue financial talks at the North Korean embassy today.


He warned that a long-term process is needed if the discussions are to be productive.


(Xinhua News Agency, China Daily December 20, 2006)

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