U.S. may freeze N. Korean assets in foreign banks: State Dept.
By Hwang Doo-hyong
WASHINGTON, June 23 (Yonhap) -- The United States Wednesday did not preclude the possibility of freezing North Korean assets in foreign banks to effectively cut off resources for the North's development and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
"I'm not going to predict any particular step that we're contemplating, but these are steps that are available to us under existing U.S. international law," State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters at a daily news briefing.
He was responding to the question if Washington was considering freezing North Korean assets at foreign banks just like it froze more than US$25 million in North Korean accounts in Banco Delta Asia in Macau in 2005.
The former Bush administration that year designated Banco Delta Asia as an entity suspected of helping North Korea launder money it earned by circulating counterfeit $100 bills called supernotes.
The U.S. lifted the freeze in early 2007 to entice the North to come back to the six-party talks on ending its nuclear weapons programs. Washington officials have said the freeze effectively cut off Pyongyang's access to the international financial system and dealt the nation a devastating blow.
"We are always reviewing options ... because, in fact, North Korea is always moving money and goods around. We are committed to implement existing U.N. Security Council resolutions to restrict North Korea's ability to proliferate technology and know-how," Crowley said. "We have many authorities that exist -- both internationally and domestically -- to take action against North Korea. We have used a variety of steps in the past to send a clear message to North Korea to change course."
Crowley's remarks come amid heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula after the torpedoeing of the South Korean warship Cheonan by a North Korean submarine in the Yellow Sea in March. Forty-six sailors died.
South Korea has brought the incident to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions or condemnation of Pyongyang even as China, a veto-wielding council member, appears reluctant to blame its communist ally.
North Korea denied responsibility and threatened to wage all-out war if the U.N. Security Council condemns the North with a resolution or a presidential statement.
The summit meetings of the leaders of the Group of Eight and 20 major economies will also likely address the Cheonan incident in Canada later this week, although it is not clear if they can agree on a joint statement.
Senator John Kerry (D-Ma), meanwhile, called on China to join forces to rebuke the North.
"I hope that China will now join with us and other members of the Security Council in aggressively implementing these sanctions and, also, in condemning North Korea's recent aggression against South Korea," Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told a committee hearing.
"In recent days, we have seen positive steps by China to stop the spread of nuclear weapons, and I think all of us appreciate China's vote for new sanctions against Iran at the United Nations," the senator said. "That's an important cooperative effort, an important measure of China's role in the world today."
Kerry was discussing the U.N. resolutions adopted after North Korea's missile and nuclear tests last year to impose an overall arms embargo on North Korea, except for light weapons, and financial sanctions to prevent the flow of funds that could benefit its proliferation activities.
U.N. member states are also required by the resolutions to reduce or cut off financial aid to North Korea unless the aid is humanitarian.
The U.S. Treasury Department has blacklisted several North Korean banks, companies and individuals for their involvement in the production of ballistic missiles, freezing the assets of designated proliferators of weapons of mass destruction and their supporters, and prohibiting U.S. citizens from engaging in any transactions with them.
On relisting North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism, Crowley said no decision has been made.
"We continue to review this," he said. "But I'm not here to predict any particular decision. This can be an ongoing process. But there are specific legal criteria that have to be met to put a country on the state sponsor of terrorism list. You know, this is not a static situation."
North Korea was first put on the terrorism list soon after it downed a South Korean airplane over Burma in 1987, killing all 115 aboard. It was delisted in October 2008, which paved the way for a fresh round of multilateral nuclear talks that had been deadlocked for nearly a year.