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U.S. envoy: Washington will work to resolve financial restrictions against North Korea

Updated:
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) _ The main U.S. envoy to South Korea said Thursday that Washington will seek to resolve financial restrictions on North Korea that have hindered nuclear talks, after Pyongyang agreed to return to the negotiations following its nuclear test.

U.S. Ambassador Alexander Vershbow said Washington has agreed to form a working group on the financial issue amid the six-nation nuclear talks that North Korea agreed this week to rejoin _ the first sign of a relaxation of tensions after the North's Oct. 9 test.

``We want to resolve these issues because we do want to have a normal relationship with North Korea,'' Vershbow said in a lecture to university students, referring to the standoff between Washington and Pyongyang over U.S. moves to cut off the communist nation's access to foreign banks for alleged illicit activities like counterfeiting and money laundering.

Pyongyang has said it will seek to have the financial restrictions lifted at the resumed talks, last held in November 2005. They involve the two Koreas, China, Russia, Japan and the U.S.

No date has been set for the next round of talks, but South Korean Vice Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan said Wednesday it would be held after the summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, or APEC, scheduled for Nov. 18-19 in Vietnam.

China said the sooner the talks resume, the better.

``It is our belief that it would be better to hold the meeting as early as possible,'' said Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao at a regular news briefing.

Liu also said China would maintain United Nations sanctions on North Korea despite the latest breakthrough.

President Roh Moo-hyun said South Korea would keep its relations with North Korea ``friendly'' despite the communist regime's nuclear test _ a sign that Seoul will seek to mend ties that were strained by the North's missile tests in July and worsened after the North's Oct. 9 nuclear test.

``We will continue to maintain the relations with North Korea in a friendly manner to safeguard our freedom and stability,'' Roh told a business forum. ``We won't put anything above peace.''

The North's nuclear test increased security threats, but hasn't significantly shaken the balance of military power between the two Koreas, Roh said.

South Korea has said it would take steps to punish North Korea under a U.N. sanctions resolution for its nuclear test, but has also voiced concern that harsh actions not worsen the situation.

Vershbow, however, said the U.N. sanctions resolution ``remains in force ... until North Korea denuclearizes.''

Japan's Foreign Ministry said two senior U.S. officials will visit Tokyo this weekend to discuss the six-party talks. One of the American diplomats will also visit Seoul next week, according to South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Choo Kyu-ho.

The two Koreas remain technically at war since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a cease-fire, rather than a peace treaty, but relations have significantly warmed since 2000 when their leaders held their first and only summit.

The U.N. Security Council approved a list of hundreds of items that could be used to make nuclear, chemical and biological weapons or ballistic missiles, and that are banned from trade with North Korea.

The sanctions also call for freezing the assets of businesses connected to the North's nuclear and ballistic weapons programs, restrictions on luxury goods sales to the country and travel bans on its officials.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency cited unidentified government officials as saying the six parties to the disarmament talks want to hold ``unofficial'' preparatory meetings to lay the groundwork for significant progress when formal negotiations resume.

But a senior South Korean official familiar with the nuclear issue dismissed the report, saying, ``I don't think there is high possibility'' of such a meeting. The official spoke on condition of anonymity due to the issue's sensitivity.

South Korea's Foreign Ministry also announced that Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon, the next U.N. secretary-general, will travel Sunday to Japan for talks with Japanese leaders on North Korea and other issues. Ban plans to meet Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Foreign Minister Taro Aso, the ministry said.
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