U.S., N. Korea May Discuss Counterfeit Issue

U.S.-North Korean talks could be held next week in New York on administration charges that Pyongyang has counterfeited U.S. dollars, allegations that have prompted the communist state to boycott nuclear disarmament negotiations, a State Department official said Thursday.

The official said Li Gun, head of the North American division of the North Korean Foreign Ministry, is likely to meet with State and Treasury Department officials on March 4 at Pyongyang's U.N. mission.

Last year, the U.S. slapped restrictions on a Macao bank and North Korean companies it said were involved in illicit activity, including counterfeiting, money laundering and funding weapons proliferation.

North Korea reacted angrily to the sanctions. It has refused to continue participating in six-party discussions aimed at achieving nuclear disarmament on the Korea Peninsula.

The State Department official who discussed the possibility of talks next week asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak on the record.

The prospect of a meeting was first reported Thursday in the South Korean press.

Six-party talks have been stalled since November. The United States is seeking the verifiable dismantling of North Korea's nuclear weapons in exchange for economic benefits from Washington and other countries involved in the disarmament negotiations.

The Bush administration has insisted there was no link between the sanctions and the six-party deliberations.

The administration offered months ago to brief the North Koreans on U.S. laws governing the decision to impose the sanctions. At the time, North Korea said it was not interested but the possibility of talks next week indicates that Pyongyang may have had a change of heart.

The State Department official declined to speculate on whether the New York talks, if they take place, could lead to a North Korean commitment to return to the six-party discussions.

Only rarely have North Korean officials traveled to the United States for official talks. There have been occasional U.S.-North Korean encounters in Beijing and other Asian venues in recent years.