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China: N. Korean nuclear talks to resume Feb. 8

/ Source: The Associated Press

International talks on dismantling North Korea’s nuclear programs will resume Feb. 8, China said Tuesday, as Washington and Pyongyang began a new round of meetings over the North’s alleged illicit financial dealings.

The last round of arms talks in December — held in the wake of the North’s Oct. 9 nuclear test — failed to make any progress on getting Pyongyang to disarm.

The duration of the nuclear discussions next week “will depend on the progress made during the talks,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu.

The negotiations have only resulted in one agreement since they began more than three years ago, a September 2005 pact where the North pledged to abandon its nuclear program in exchange for aid and security guarantees.

Hope for 'substantive steps' toward agreement
Jiang said the key goal at the next meeting would be to take “substantive steps” toward implementing that agreement between China, Japan, Russia, the United States and the two Koreas.

“We hope the relevant parties can make joint efforts ... toward implementing the joint statement in a comprehensive way,” Jiang said at a regular news briefing.

A Japanese Foreign Ministry official said Tuesday that the talks were expected to end before the Chinese New Year — China’s biggest holiday — that starts Feb. 18. The official spoke on condition of anonymity, citing ministry policy.

Last week, envoys from South Korea, North Korea and the U.S. held meetings with their Chinese counterpart in Beijing, a move that helped establish when the next round of nuclear talks would be, Jiang said.

Such “contacts have laid the basis for the resumption of talks,” she said.

Russia’s nuclear envoy was upbeat Tuesday ahead of the talks.

“The very fact that there was agreement to hold a new round testifies to signs of small movement in the positions of the participants,” Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Lusyukov, who will head the Russian delegation at the talks, was quoted by Russian news agency RIA-Novosti as saying.

The South Korean Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it “expects the participating countries to produce a substantial agreement for early steps” to implement the 2005 agreement.

U.S. official 'hopeful'
Meanwhile, a U.S. Treasury official in Beijing for negotiations with North Korea over its alleged illicit financial dealings said he was “hopeful” of progress on the issue, which has stymied progress at the nuclear talks.

Deputy Assistant Treasury Secretary Daniel Glaser was set to meet his North Korean counterparts Tuesday to talk about U.S. financial restrictions, which were imposed due to Pyongyang’s alleged smuggling and counterfeiting and have stymied the separate talks on scrapping its nuclear weapons program.

“We’re prepared to go through these talks as long as it takes for us to get through our agenda,” Glaser told reporters. “I’m hopeful we’ll make progress.”

Pyongyang has tied the two issues together since Washington took action against the Macau-based Banco Delta Asia in 2005, accusing the bank of complicity in North Korea’s alleged illegal financial activity such as counterfeiting and money laundering.

The move has caused other banks to steer clear of North Korean business for fear of losing access to the U.S. market, hampering North Korea’s access to the international banking system.

North Korea had refused to discuss its nuclear program until the financial restrictions are lifted, and only agreed to return to the arms talks in the wake of its nuclear test following a more-than-yearlong boycott to address the financial issue.