South Korean President Sparks Controversy as Nuclear Talks Near an End

While negotiators from China, Russia, Japan, South Korea and the United States were struggling to produce progress in North Korean nuclear talks, South Korean President Roh was assigning blame for the talks' delays.

In a speech to advisors Thursday, Mr. Roh suggested that the U.S. State Department and Treasury Department could be seen as having "played a game" with North Korea in September of 2005.

Within days of last September's six-party declaration committing the North in principle to denuclearize, U.S. Treasury officials announced financial measures they say are designed to protect U.S. banks from North Korean money laundering and counterfeiting. The North responded by boycotting further talks for 15 months.

Mr. Roh criticizes the two U.S. government departments for failing to coordinate during last year's negotiations - and asks whether they have different strategies toward the North.

He says the September declaration was "buried" the day the financial sanctions were born. But, later in the speech, Mr. Roh does say that what was buried "sprouted" in the spring and led to the current renewal of the talks.

Tong Kim, now a professor at Seoul's Korea University, was a senior Korean interpreter for the U.S. State Department during negotiations with the North Koreans in the 1990s. He describes Mr. Roh's comments as unfortunate.

"I think it's a bad time to make such a comment. It does not help anybody. I do not think it helped the process of making any progress with the North Koreans," said Kim.

Kim and other experts say Mr. Roh chose a highly sensitive moment to highlight U.S. and South Korean differences in dealing with the North. Seoul has urged Washington to show flexibility on the North's financial issues, while Washington has said Pyongyang first needs to address concerns about its alleged illicit activities. U.S. leaders describe the financial issue as a law enforcement matter, separate from the diplomatic process.