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U.S. says bank actions nothing to do with N.Korea

Written by: Staff
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JAKARTA, Mar 3 (Reuters) The fate of talks on North Korea's nuclear plans lies in Pyongyang's hands and U.S. steps on illicit financial acts there are against the crime and not the country, the U.S. envoy to the talks said today.

Christopher Hill, Assistant Secretary of State for Asian and Pacific Affairs and the U.S. envoy to the six-party talks, was speaking to reporters after meeting Indonesia's foreign minister.

Asked when he expected Pyongyang to resume attending the gridlocked talks, Hill told reporters: ''You gotta have to ask the North Koreans and when you get the answer please let me know. I just don't know.'' The talks have been stalled because of a U.S.-North Korea dispute following Washington's crackdown on firms suspected of aiding illicit North Korean financial activities.

The United States accuses North Korea of conducting illicit financial activities, including counterfeiting 0 bills to help finance its nuclear arms programmes. The North denies involvement in any such illegal activities.

North Korea has said it would be unreasonable to resume the talks -- which also involve South Korea, Russia and Japan -- until Washington ends the crackdown, which Pyongyang says is designed to topple its leadership.

''I want to stress to you that the actions we took with respect to the bank in Macau (and) our actions we have taken with respect to other banks in other parts of the world have nothing to do with North Korea,'' Hill said.

Last year, Washington banned U.S. institutions from dealing with Macau's Banco Delta Asia over allegations it helped launder North Korean funds from drug trafficking and counterfeit goods.

''Our actions in this regard are not directed at North Korea but they are directed to the activities that we have seen from North Korea and from other places,'' Hill said.

North Korean diplomats are set to meet U.S. officials in early March who will brief them on why Washington imposed financial restrictions on Pyongyang.

In September, the countries involved in the Beijing talks agreed North Korea would give up its nuclear programmes in return for aid and better diplomatic ties. But there has been no progress on drawing up a plan to implement the goals.

''But I do know that there is a real logic to this agreement. It's an agreement that makes sense to everybody, especially for North Korea. Nuclear weapons will not solve any of North Korea's problems. I hope they will come back,'' Hill said.

Last week, a top South Korean security official said all the six involved parties, including North Korea, believed the next round of the talks should be held in the first half of April.

REUTERS PR SND1310

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