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North Korea Snubs Japan

Communist nation says it won't allow its neighbor to take part in talks aimed at curbing Pyongyang's nuclear program.

October 08, 2003|From Times Wire Services

SEOUL — North Korea said Tuesday that Japan would not be allowed to participate in further multilateral talks aimed at curbing Pyongyang's nuclear weapons development, complaining that Tokyo raised an abduction issue at previous talks.

Japan firmly rejected the North Korean position, saying it had a role to play in any talks on the nuclear issue.

"We simply cannot accept such a statement," Japanese government spokesman Jiro Okuyama said at a summit of the Assn. of Southeast Asian Nations on the Indonesian resort island of Bali.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao agreed on the sidelines of the 10-nation summit to coordinate efforts to get North Korea to end its nuclear ambitions, and reiterated that the dispute should be resolved peacefully.

North Korea frequently issues belligerent statements, often as a way to gain leverage over its adversaries. Its latest assertion complicates efforts by the United States and its allies to restart six-nation nuclear talks. Washington considers Japan's participation crucial because the North's nuclear program threatens regional security.

"Japan clearly must and will continue to be a participant to the six-party talks in order to achieve a diplomatic solution," said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher.

"Japan is a neighbor of North and South Korea, has vital interests at stake in the nuclear issue and in other areas as well. North Korean actions ... have raised the concern of its neighbors, including Japan, and North Korea must deal with those concerns in these discussions," he said.

In August, the United States, China, Russia, the two Koreas and Japan held talks in Beijing aimed at addressing the North's nuclear ambitions.

Tokyo used the talks to raise another issue it considers pivotal -- abductions of its citizens decades ago by the communist state.

It was unclear whether Pyongyang's statement, carried by its official KCNA news agency, meant that North Korea would agree to a future meeting if Japan is excluded. Since the August meeting ended without plans for a next round, North Korea has said it is no longer interested in talks.

"Japan is nothing but an obstacle to the peaceful settlement of the nuclear issue between the DPRK and the U.S.," the North Korean statement said, using the initials of the North's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. "It has lost its qualification to be a trustworthy dialogue partner."

North Korea accused Japan of abusing the talks to raise the "issue of abduction," which the North says already has been settled.

The kidnapping of Japanese during the 1970s and 1980s by North Korea to train its spies has been a major sticking point between the Asian neighbors, stalling efforts to set up diplomatic relations and halting Japan's food aid to the impoverished North.

In Tokyo, the Foreign Ministry said that if future talks are to occur, "Japan's participation is natural."

"The nuclear, missile and abduction issues must be resolved if Japan-North Korea normalization negotiations are to move forward," it said.

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