Tokyo Trip Could Aid Talks on N. Korea

By Anthony Faiola
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, April 5, 2006

TOKYO, April 5 -- Top officials from the six countries engaged in North Korean nuclear disarmament talks will converge in Tokyo next week at a private-sector conference, fueling hopes of unofficial meetings that could help restart the long-stalled negotiations.

Assistant U.S. Secretary of State Christopher Hill, Washington's chief envoy to the talks, is scheduled to arrive in Tokyo on Monday to meet with his counterparts from Japan and South Korea, U.S. officials said.

During his three-day visit, Hill will attend a Northeast Asia Cooperation Dialogue conference at which top negotiators from the other countries in the six-party talks -- China, Russia and North Korea -- will also be present.

It will be the first time that leading delegates from all six will be at the same forum since November, when the last round of talks ended in Beijing. North Korea has since resisted diplomatic efforts to return to the negotiating table, citing a global campaign by the U.S. Treasury Department to stem its alleged counterfeiting and money laundering operations.

Asian and U.S. diplomats said it was too early to tell whether any talks with the North Koreans would take place at the Tokyo conference. Michael Boyle, spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, said no meeting between Hill and a visiting North Korean official had been arranged. "They will be at the same conference," Boyle said. "That's all we can say."

Some analysts have suggested that the North Koreans may try to stall for months or even years before allowing the six-party talks to resume. Others say that a U.S. initiative launched last year to root out the communist government's illicit activities has been effective in putting new pressure on it.

The Treasury Department has forced U.S. banks to sever ties with a bank in Macau that is allegedly tied to illicit North Korean funds, a move that has led banks around the world to curtail dealings with North Korea to avoid similar action.

On Wednesday, the Kyodo news agency reported that Japan's Foreign Ministry is considering issuing entry permits for North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Gye Gwan, the country's main envoy on the nuclear issue, and other officials.

Sponsored by the University of California's Institute of Global Conflict and Cooperation Sources, the Tokyo conference will gather top officials and academics from across the region.

It comes as Japan is taking more assertive steps on its own to pressure North Korea. Japanese politicians have made progress on both a bill threatening sanctions if it does not negotiate in good faith on the nuclear issue and a dispute over Japanese citizens abducted by the North Koreans during the 1970s and '80s to help train potential spies.

On Tuesday, Japan added 20 North Korean firms and institutions to an export restriction list aimed at keeping them from obtaining materials and technology that could have military use.

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