Report: U.S., N. Korea May Hold Talks Before 6-Party Meeting

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The U.S. and North Korea may hold talks in New York as early as next week aimed at working toward the resumption of six-country discussions on Pyongyang's nuclear program, a newspaper reported Saturday.

Citing unnamed sources familiar with U.S.-North Korea affairs, Japan's Mainichi newspaper reported that officials from the two countries will discuss, among other issues, financial sanctions imposed on North Korea.

Tony Fratto, a White House spokesman, said he was not aware of any plans for a meeting. A State Department spokesman, Kurtis Cooper, said he could not comment on the report.

Last year, Washington claimed that Banco Delta Asia SARL — a bank in the Chinese territory of Macau — was being used by North Korea for money-laundering. The U.S. banned transactions between the bank and American financial institutions.

Earlier this month, the State Department said North Korea will get a chance to seek access to its frozen overseas bank accounts when six-nation negotiations are resumed.

North Korea agreed to return to the talks — involving the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia — following its test of a nuclear weapon on Oct. 9, a move that triggered international outrage and economic sanctions. No date has yet been set for their resumption.

North Korea, which claims its nuclear ambitions are aimed at deterring U.S. attacks, has boycotted the nuclear talks since November 2005 since the U.S. imposed economic sanctions on the country.

U.S. and North Korean officials had a direct meeting in Beijing on Oct. 31, which the North said at the time led to their decision to return to the six-party talks.

Meanwhile, top South Korean security and ruling party officials on Saturday decided against fully participating in a U.S.-led program to stop and search ships in international waters to prevent the movement of weapons of mass destruction, a news report stated.

The U.S. has said it wants South Korea to expand its participation in the Proliferation Security Initiative following the North's nuclear test and a U.N. Security Council sanctions resolution banning weapons trade with the North.

North Korea is a primary target of the initiative. South Korea has only been an observer to the program out of concern its direct participation in stopping and searching North Korean ships could lead to armed clashes with its volatile neighbor.

Saturday's decision will become official after a formal government review process and a report to President Roh Moo-hyun, Yonhap news agency reported, citing unidentified participants in the session involving Prime Minister Han Myung-sook, key security officials and ruling party leaders.