The latest round of the six-party talks aimed at halting North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs ended without tangible results Friday. The participants even failed to decide on the date of the next round. Moreover, Japan and North Korea held no bilateral talks on resolving the fate of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korean agents. It is extremely regrettable that North Korea inflexibly stuck to its refusal to discuss the nuclear weapons issue.

The biggest reason for the latest round ending without progress after five days was North Korea’s demand that the United States end financial sanctions against it first before a discussion of the North’s denuclearization could proceed.

For the first time, the U.S. held separate bilateral meetings with North Korea, one on the imposed financial sanctions and the other on the denuclearization issue. U.S. negotiator Christopher Hill said North Korea talked only about the financial sanctions in both meetings. North Korea failed to show sincerity.

The financial sanctions are related to Pyongyang’s alleged criminal activities conducted through a Macau bank. It runs against reason to link the sanctions to the nuclear negotiations. The U.S. alleges that the bank, where Pyongyang has deposited some $24 million, has been involved in North Korean money laundering and in the counterfeiting of $100 bills. Even China, a longtime friend of the North, supported the sanctions.

The U.S. reportedly proposed four initial steps, including a freeze on the North’s nuclear facilities — which Pyongyang already should have undertaken to implement the September 2005 joint statement in which the North committed to abandoning its nuclear programs in exchange for security guarantees and economic and energy aid.

The U.S. offered to “reward” the North for each step it completed, but the North reportedly did not show a response. Pyongyang should live up to the spirit of the chairman’s statement, which said the parties agreed to implement the joint statement as soon as possible in a phased manner in line with the principle of “action for action.”

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