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US Wants Proof North Destroyed Plates

Posted February. 17, 2006 03:11,   


U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Alexander Vershbow and South Korean Ambassador to the U.S. Lee Tae-sik are both making stronger statements on the North Korean counterfeiting issue.

“North Korea should present evidence that they have destroyed the plates and equipment used for counterfeiting U.S. dollars,” Vershbow said in a statement dated February 14. It was the clearest statement so far from either the Korean or American government about what action should be taken regarding the counterfeiting issue. The United States is demanding the destruction of the plates, machines, ink, and paper it says North Korea used for counterfeiting.

“This remark says the allegations of the North Korean government counterfeiting currency are cold, hard facts,” said one puzzled South Korean official. “And the United States is telling North Korea to wave the white flag, so to speak. How can North Korea accept this?”

Ambassador Lee said, “It is America’s opinion that North Korea is making counterfeit money where they print North Korean currency.” This comment is also very direct. The ambassador was relaying America’s position, but his statement was so clear and firm that some think the statement may have had other purposes. In other words, the statement could have been made to state what he wanted to say to North Korea, veiled by the addition of the phrase, “It is America’s opinion.”

Some are voicing concerns that the atmosphere surrounding the six-party talks may be affected after such blunt statements by the two ambassadors, especially at a time when the question of dispatching Lee Geun, North Korea’s foreign affairs representative, to the United States is currently being reviewed in order to resolve the counterfeiting issue, the biggest obstacle to the nuclear six-party talks.

However, it seems that the United States feels it would be more helpful in restarting the six-party talks if they took a hard-line approach by bringing up the counterfeiting issue, North Korea’s “Achilles’ heel.” Vershbow said previously that the Bush administration is dubious about resolving issues with North Korea through dialogue.

South Korean government authorities said yesterday that the United States has never relayed its position relating to the destruction of money plates to the South Korean government, and that this is the first time they have heard of it. Then this means the United States may have revealed the most important factor related to the continuation of the six-party talks through the press, without telling the South Korean government.

Others suggest, however, that the South Korean government did receive America’s position in advance, but did not reveal it in order not to provoke North Korea.

Ambassador Lee also said that the United States has found new evidence concerning North Korean counterfeiting activities in 2004 and 2005. However, South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) authorities said on February 2 at the National Assembly Intelligence Commission that they have concrete proof of North Korean counterfeiting activities up to 1998, but have no information on counterfeiting or distribution of fake currency after 1998. The conflicting statements of the South Korean ambassador in Korea and the NIS authorities may be signs of a cover-up.

Jong-Koo Yoon jkmas@donga.com