North Korea urges United States to lift financial sanctions

Wednesday, March 1, 2006

SEOUL, South Korea -- North Korea urged the United States to lift financial sanctions over counterfeiting allegations, saying the move would show whether Washington is willing to drop its hostile policy toward the communist country, the North's official news agency reported Tuesday.

Washington last year slapped restrictions on a Macau-based bank and North Korean companies it said were helping the communist government engage in money laundering, counterfeiting and weapons proliferation.

North Korea denies the allegations and has said it will stay away from six-nation talks on its nuclear weapons program until the sanctions are lifted. The U.S. has refused to lift the penalties, saying they are separate from the arms talks.

"If the U.S. is truly interested in the protection of its currency, it should stop such reckless acts as linking the issue of 'fake dollars' with [North Korea] in a far-fetched manner," the Korean Central News Agency quoted a spokesman for the North's Foreign Ministry as saying.

Other participants in the nuclear talks are China, South Korea, Japan and Russia.

The United States has accused North Korea of producing high-quality counterfeit $100 bills known as "supernotes," and has said sanctions have disrupted the country's ability to make nuclear weapons.

The North Korean spokesman said his country had manufactured nuclear weapons with its own technology, funds and materials, dismissing as "folly" the argument that sanctions could cut off funds for weapons development. He accused the U.S. of preventing North Korea from joining the international financial system.

"We have already told the U.S. side that we were ready to cooperate in the efforts to settle the issue of 'fake dollars,"' the spokesman said.

North Korea this month vowed to join international efforts to combat money laundering.

Also Tuesday, North Korean Foreign Minister Paek Nam Sun told Russia's ITAR-Tass news agency that the U.S. allegations were "a sort of conspiracy designed to 'overthrow the regime,'" in North Korea.

North Korea agreed in September to abandon its nuclear program in exchange for aid and security guarantees. However, implementation of the agreement has stalled over the sanctions dispute.

Paek's South Korean counterpart, Ban Ki-moon, urged North Korea on Tuesday to go beyond simple denials of involvement in illegal activities and "voluntarily take what steps it needs to take" to resolve the dispute.

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