Asia Time Online - Daily News
              Click Here
Asia Times Chinese
AT Chinese

     Dec 19, 2006
Page 1 of 2
N Korea talks: Not a meeting of minds
By Donald Kirk

WASHINGTON - The protagonists at the six-party talks that began in Beijing on Monday on North Korea's nuclear-weapons program are at such odds that the miracle is they are willing to face one another across the same table, much less actually negotiate anything.

So far apart are North Korea and the United States on matters of substance that their chief delegates may find themselves yakking away on quite different subjects for the first few sessions as they

engage in well-worn repetitions of familiar positions.

North Korea's Kim Kye-gwan, whom the US envoy, Christopher Hill, got to know quite well in "sideline" meetings before the last six-party talks fizzled out more than a year ago, appears to have gone to Beijing with one immediate goal in mind.

Far from considering a deal that would obligate North Korea to give up its nuclear program, Kim is there to demand that the US Treasury Department lift its ruling of September 15 last year, just four days before delegates from all six countries agreed on a "statement of principles" under which North Korea would give up its nuclear program.

The statement, blasting Banco Delta Asia (BDA) in Macau as "a primary money-laundering concern", dealt a crippling blow to North Korea's arcane financial system by explicitly banning all US financial institutions from any role, direct or indirect, on behalf of the bank anywhere on Earth.

The relationship between the timing of this order and the reluctant US decision that September 19 to go along with a vaguely worded statement that held out the promise of vast amounts of aid, if North Korea would only show signs of jettisoning its nukes, has always appeared more than coincidental.

Similarly, it would not seem coincidental if US Treasury officials, having scrutinized all that BDA has done since then to clean up its act, were to decide that the bank is no longer a conduit either for US$100 supernotes manufactured in North Korea and/or for payments for arms, drugs, gold, counterfeit cigarettes and other lucrative items.

So urgent is the topic as far as North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is concerned that he made the US Treasury order the prime reason for refusing to return to the table for the past 13 months.

And, now that North Korea is back, Kim Kye-gwan is making the lifting of the ban the "precondition" for all else. Kim comes to the table from what North Korea clearly perceives as a position of strength, fueled by the underground test of a small nuclear device on October 9 and the test-firing, more than three months earlier, of seven missiles, notably a fearsome long-range Taepodong that plunged into the sea less than a minute after launch.

The refusal of the US and Japan to recognize Pyongyang's membership in the nuclear club hardly diminishes the North Korean view that its success, however limited, provides a bargaining chip with which it may win concessions without ever getting around to shutting down its nuclear program.

As long as Kim Kye-gwan sets the lifting of the US Treasury restrictions on BDA as a "precondition" for anything, the most important sessions in Beijing won't be the six-party talks at all. Rather, they will be scarcely noted meetings, going on simultaneously, between US Treasury officials and North Koreans as they go over reams of documents establishing the relationship between BDA and Pyongyang.

The bank has frozen $24 million in North Korean accounts, a small portion of the funds that Pyongyang has accrued through at least two decades of doing business through BDA.

The Treasury Department could lift the ban on dealings with BDA if investigators were to decide that the bank has reformed and they have no problem with Pyongyang using its services as long as North Korean agents refrain from using the bank to launder funny money.

At the same time, the Treasury would have to acknowledge that trade in arms and gold do not violate international law. US negotiators might object to earnings from the sale of narcotics, but they would have to concede, obviously not publicly, that the US has not been known to crack down so hard on any number of other regimes whose leaders have profited off the drug trade.

No one, however, expects the Treasury Department suddenly to clear BDA and North Korea in time for the year-end holidays. In fact, intricate haggling on the financial issue may well guarantee that the six-party talks will devolve into exercises in statement-making in which North Korea tests US resolve - and also, as always, divides the other five parties against one another.

In such a contest, the US and Japan appear to share common cause as Tokyo revs up rhetoric against North Korea in a right-

Continued 1 2 

How to turn the tables on Pyongyang (Dec 19, '06)

North Korea: An offer China wouldn't refuse (Dec 13, '06)

North Korea turns back the clock (Dec 13, '06)


All material on this website is copyright and may not be republished in any form without written permission.
Copyright 1999 - 2006 Asia Times Online Ltd.
Head Office: Rm 202, Hau Fook Mansion, No. 8 Hau Fook St., Kowloon, Hong Kong
Thailand Bureau: 11/13 Petchkasem Road, Hua Hin, Prachuab Kirikhan, Thailand 77110