South Korea's foreign minister offered a note of caution ahead of six-nation talks to freeze North Korea's nuclear program, saying Wednesday there was a long way to go before a final agreement will be reached.
Meanwhile, the nominee to be the No. 2 official at the U.S. State Department said in Washington that "there are some grounds for optimism" for seeing results at the talks because of continued international pressure on the North Korean government.
John Negroponte highlighted the U.S. Treasury Department's moves to isolate Pyongyang from the international financial system for its alleged counterfeiting and money laundering, adding that such steps "can provide a bit of leverage" at the six-nation nuclear talks.
The negotiations which involve the United States, the two Koreas, China, Russia and Japan are set to resume Feb. 8 in Beijing.
Also Wednesday, U.S. and North Korean financial officials met in Beijing for a second day to discuss the financial restrictions that the North has demanded be lifted before it will address its nuclear disarmament.
After the first day of talks, U.S. Deputy Assistant Treasury Secretary Daniel Glaser said Tuesday evening he was "hopeful" of progress.
Washington has blacklisted a Macau bank it alleges was complicit in North Korea's illicit activities, making other institutions cautious of dealings with the North for fear of losing access to the U.S. market effectively further deepening Pyongyang's economic isolation. North Korea denies wrongdoing.
The dispute led the North to boycott the nuclear talks for more than a year, during which it conducted its first-ever nuclear weapons test in October. The arms negotiations resumed in December, but no progress was made due to the lingering financial issue.
In Seoul, South Korean Foreign Minister Song Min-soon said Wednesday that he expects the U.S. and North Korea to resolve the financial dispute this week.
"It is just a beginning. We cannot either agree or implement all at one time," said Song, who has also previously served as Seoul's nuclear envoy.
Song expressed hope there could be some progress at the nuclear talks toward implementing a 2005 deal under which the North pledged to abandon its atomic weapons in exchange for aid and security guarantees the only agreement ever made since the talks started in 2003, reports AP.
"We hope for a joint written document but it remains to be seen whether the countries will reach an agreement," Song told reporters at his regular press briefing. "We have a long way to go before we adopt a written agreement."
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