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North Makes Counterfeiting Overtures

Posted February. 14, 2006 03:01,   


“Invite Li Gun to New York.”

According to sources, Han Sung Ryol, North Korean Deputy Ambassador to the U.N., delivered his message to the U.S. administration through an informal channel. Ambassador Han’s message was a proposal that North Korea and the U.S. summon Li Gun, deputy director of the American Affairs Bureau in North Korea’s Foreign Ministry, to New York to probe into the counterfeiting case. Deputy Ambassador Han is said to have met a Columbia University professor who is known for his rich experience in managing track two diplomacy (a specific kind of informal diplomacy) between Pyongyang and Washington.

Deputy Director Li, a working-level diplomat, has been engaged mostly in informal contacts between his home country and the U.S.

Interesting about North Korea’s proposal of calling in Li Gun is the fact that the offer is highly likely to be a “justification” for Pyongyang to return to the six-party talks. An insider in the U.S. administration said yesterday, “Being cornered by the financial sanctions, North Korea appears to have made the proposal in order to ‘save face.’”

The same official explained, “China arranged a meeting between Kim Gye Gwan, North Korea’s vice foreign minister, and Christopher Hill, assistant secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific affairs, in Beijing last month. Since then, it has kept asking the U.S. to summon Deputy Director Li to discuss the counterfeiting incident and allow North Korea to save face.”

It is also reported that China has been fearful that the alleged cooperation of Banco Delta Asia (BDA) with North Korea’s money laundering might undermine the credibility of the Chinese financial sector, therefore it has been demanding North Korea to stop illegal financial activities. A Korean government official analyzed, “It is unavoidable at the moment that China is walking a fine line not to upset the U.S. concerning allegations of North Korea’s money counterfeiting and laundering. China is increasing its pressure on Pyongyang because it wants to create the right conditions so that its financial institutions are listed on the U.S. stock exchanges.”

The U.S. State Department received a report on the informal meeting between Vice Ambassador Han and the Columbia University professor. Reportedly, the department is carefully considering whether to invite Deputy Director Li.

However, another source in the administration says, “Even if the State Department accepts the invitation, the White House and the Defense Department still have to be persuaded.” The remark is a hint that consensus in the government has yet to be reached.

Jung-Ahn Kim Myoung-Gun Lee credo@donga.com gun43@donga.com