Japan, South Korean and U.S. diplomats discuss North's nuclear program

Thursday, September 9th 2004, 7:23 pm
By: News On 6

TOKYO (AP) _ Diplomats from Japan, South Korea and the United States on Friday confirmed their commitment to cooperate in six-nation talks aimed at convincing North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program, agreeing that the next round of talks must be held later this month as scheduled, officials said.

North Korea's reluctance to participate has stalled efforts to restart the talks, while South Korea's recent acknowledgment it had conducted experiments with plutonium and uranium threatened to further complicate the negotiations.

But on Friday, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly, Mitoji Yabunaka, Japan's deputy foreign minister, and South Korean counterpart Lee Soo-hyuck agreed that the next round should be held by the end of September, a Foreign Ministry official said on condition of anonymity.

The six-way talks also include China, Russia and North Korea.

The meeting comes a day after South Korea said it extracted a tiny amount of plutonium in a nuclear experiment in 1982, a revelation that followed an acknowledgment last week that it enriched a small amount of uranium in 2000.

South Korea said it should have reported the uranium enrichment experiment to the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency. It denied any intentions of developing nuclear weapons, but North Korea responded to the experiment by warning of a ``nuclear arms race'' in Northeast Asia.

Seoul insisted, however, that the controversy over the uranium experiment shouldn't disrupt dialogue on the North's suspected atomic weapons programs.

Japan said Seoul's tests shouldn't hamper the six-way discussions.

``The South Korean government is cooperating fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency and they are disclosing everything,'' said Foreign Ministry spokesman Hatsuhisa Takashima. ``We hope the North Korean government will follow suit and take the same action as South Korea.''

During Friday's meeting, both Japan and the United States expressed understanding for South Korea's position.

The three nations also studied the proposals and agendas brought up in the June talks and discussed their strategies and policies for the next round of talks.

The participants expressed hopes for China _ North Korea's close ally _ to play an active role to persuade Pyongyang to agree to hold the meeting as planned, another ministry official said.

The six-way talks were already thrown into doubt after Pyongyang said earlier this month it wouldn't attend preparatory meetings and complained that Washington wasn't interested in dialogue.

Three earlier rounds of six-party talks ended with no breakthroughs.

North Korea offered in June to freeze its nuclear program as a step toward dismantling it. In exchange, the North said it wanted energy aid, an end to U.S. economic sanctions and removal from Washington's list of countries that sponsor terrorism.

The U.S. proposal would withhold some benefits until the North discloses all its nuclear activities, helps to dismantle facilities and allows outside monitoring.

The nuclear dispute arose after North Korea admitted in 2002 to running a secret nuclear program in violation of international agreements.