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(Yonhap Interview) U.S. weighs financial squeeze on N. Korea over nuke test
By Kim Deok-hyun
SEOUL, Feb. 3 (Yonhap) -- Any U.S. sanctions to be taken against North Korea for its possible third atomic test would include a financial measure aimed at paralyzing the North's overseas banking transactions, a U.S. congressional leader said Sunday.

   In an interview in Seoul with Yonhap News Agency, Rep. Ed Royce, chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, said the U.S. Treasury Department's 2005 blacklisting of a Macau-based bank accused of laundering money for the North Korean regime proved to be "the most effective" means to deal with Pyongyang's provocative behaviors.

   Washington may employ similar measures as it did in 2005 if the North goes ahead with its planned nuclear test, he said.

   "When we did that with the Banco Delta Asia, the impact they created was the situation where the North Korean regime could not pay its generals, could not get the hard currency they needed in order to continue its nuclear program," Royce said, referring to the Macau-based bank.

   If North Korea detonates a nuclear device again, Royce said, "I will suggest those types of sanctions to the Treasury Department and its executive branches in order to create deterrence this type of behavior."

   North Korea has vowed to conduct its third nuclear test in response to the U.N. Security Council resolution tightening sanctions against it as punishment for its December rocket launch. The country had previously detonated nuclear devices in 2006 and 2009.

   Officials in Seoul have said North Korea has completed all preparations and can detonate a nuclear device at any time.

President-elect Park Geun-hye meets with U.S. Rep. Ed Royce in Seoul on Feb. 1 (Yonhap)

Royce, an 11-term Republican from California, also indicated that the U.S. and its allies would strengthen anti-proliferation measures against North Korea to "further constraint their hard currency."

   "In order to prevent North Korea from bringing many of its ill-gotten gains back into the country, we are stopping ships which were carrying contraband such as drugs, which North Korea sold, and such as missiles which they are proliferating," Royce said.

   "Because North Korea doesn't have the type of functioning economy that most countries possess, if they do not get the hard currency from overseas into the regime because of sanctions placed on the banks and bank accounts, that will really cripple their ability to do mischief," he said.

   Quoting international analysts, Royce said the U.S. strategy of halting the North Korean regime's bank dealings and freezing its overseas assets was quite successful. The U.S. Treasury's action against Banco Delta Asia deterred thousands of banks around the world from doing business with North Korea, he said.

   But the U.S. government later agreed to have the Macau government unblock North Korean bank accounts in its territory in a diplomatic effort to persuade Pyongyang to return to the six-party talks aimed at ending its nuclear program. The six-party talks have been suspended since late 2008.

   Some analysts argue that the next U.N. Security Council resolution against North Korea, if taken, should include a clause that empowers the world body to use military means to enforce its sanctions, but Royce said he won't support it.

   "Instead, I think what we will do is to write the strongest possible sanctions and move to the types of sanctions I talked about earlier, which would be absolutely non-military, and then enforce them," he said.

   As the new chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Royce said he will make efforts to change public opinions in North Korea through broadcasting, particularly with South Korean soap operas.

   "One of the effective means we have right now to change public opinions in North Korea is the broadcasting that we do," Royce said.

   South Korean soap operas are "particularly compelling to North Koreans because they see the standard of living in South Korea. They see the challenges that South Koreans are dealing with in the dramas but they could not even dream of having that type of success, that type of affluence, that type of freedom, those types of choices that they watch played out on the dramas," he said.

   "Now, it's important to understand these dramas are not just being watched in North Korean homes, they are being watched by those in the civil service, they are being watched by those in the military" through DVDs sold in the North's black markets, Royce said.

   During his two-day visit to Seoul, Royce met with President Lee Myung-bak and President-elect Park Geun-hye.

   Royce hailed Park's election as "a great step forward" for South Korea and vowed to redouble his efforts to bring relations between the two allies to a new level.

   Known for his long support for the Washington-Seoul alliance, Royce also promised to work closely with the incoming Park administration not only on North Korea but also on major pending bilateral issues.

   "I will take a fresh look at ongoing negotiations between the two countries regarding civil nuclear energy," Royce said, apparently referring to a 1974 bilateral nuclear accord set to expire next year.

   South Korea hopes that a new accord would allow it to reprocess spent nuclear fuel but Washington is reluctant to accept the demand apparently because of non-proliferation concerns.

   "I always suggest we approach these negotiations with an attitude of fairness," Royce said. "So, we will be open-minded in these negotiations and we will see what the outcome will be."