Japan to seek answers during talks

Japan on Thursday urged North Korea to address a fresh allegation that it is continuing to develop nuclear weapons, warning the suspicion could hinder efforts to normalize bilateral ties.

Japan said it will take up the issue in normalization talks with North Korea slated to begin Oct. 29, claiming Pyongyang has violated international promises to freeze the development of a nuclear arsenal.

There could also be a change or review in an ongoing project, funded by an international consortium, to build nuclear power reactors in North Korea, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda suggested.

But the top government spokesman declined to make public what stage the North’s alleged nuclear weapons program is believed to have reached.

“We want (North Korea) to take measures in a sincere manner to get rid of suspicions about a nuclear (weapons program) in the future,” Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi told reporters in Aichi Prefecture, where he attended a groundbreaking ceremony for Aichi Expo 2005.

Fukuda told reporters separately, “If there is something suggesting that (North Korea) is indeed breaking a promise, the process toward normalization will not go forward.”

Fukuda said Tokyo regards Pyongyang’s alleged development of a nuclear arsenal as a “clear violation” of the 1994 Agreed Framework that North Korea signed with the administration of then U.S. President Bill Clinton.

The reactions came after Washington announced Wednesday that North Korea admitted during bilateral talks in Pyongyang earlier this month that it is continuing to develop nuclear weapons.

Fukuda said the United States notified Japan of information related to the alleged nuclear weapons program before Koizumi met North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang on Sept. 17.

Koizumi implied he was aware of the U.S. information when he met Kim and signed a summit declaration featuring a promise “for an overall resolution of the nuclear issues on the Korean Peninsula.”

“That’s why (I signed) the Pyongyang Declaration, (which says) North Korea should follow international law and clear up suspicions of nuclear (weapons programs),” Koizumi told reporters.

The declaration says Japan and North Korea confirmed they “would comply with all related international agreements” and confirmed “the necessity of resolving security problems, including nuclear and missile issues, by promoting dialogues among countries concerned.”

But Fukuda declined to say when Washington provided Tokyo with the information about Pyongyang’s alleged program to develop nuclear weapons.

The Japanese spokesman said the government kept the information secret at the request of the U.S.

But later on Thursday, a senior Foreign Ministry official revealed that U.S. Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly informed Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi of the news on Oct. 6, when he stopped over in Tokyo after holding talks with Pyongyang.

Washington’s latest announcement did not come as a surprise to the Japanese government, the official said.

“We have heard about it before,” he said. “It’s only that it was made public today.”

Asked if Japan will remain part of the international project to construct two nuclear reactors in North Korea, Fukuda said, “We will have to think about the issue, consulting with South Korea and the U.S.”

Under the 1994 U.S.-North Korea agreement, Pyongyang pledged to freeze its nuclear weapons program in exchange for the two nuclear reactors.

The two reactors are being built by a New York-based consortium called the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization. It is primarily funded by South Korea, Japan, the U.S. and the European Union.

Fukuda declined to comment on whether North Korea already has enriched uranium for nuclear weapons.

“It’s better for me to answer the question after thrashing out with the U.S. what we can make public,” Fukuda said.

Former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, who is currently visiting the U.S., said Wednesday he was told by U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage that North Korea has admitted to having a secret nuclear development program.

According to Hashimoto, Armitage told him that Washington has grave concerns about North Korea’s nuclear development because it violates a 1994 agreement signed with the administration of President Bill Clinton.

Meanwhile, Foreign Ministry officials said that Japan, the United States and South Korea will hold a summit on Oct. 26 in Mexico on the sidelines of a two-day meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.

Koizumi, U.S. President George W. Bush and South Korean President Kim Dae Jung are expected to discuss policies regarding North Korea as well as the Iraq situation. North Korea’s ongoing development of nuclear weapons is expected to be high on their agenda.

The summit will be held in the lead up to normalization talks between Japan and North Korea that are scheduled to be held over two days in Kuala Lumpur beginning Oct. 29.

In a meeting at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence later Thursday, Fukuda and U.S. Ambassador to Japan Howard Baker agreed on the need to enhance cooperation between Japan, the U.S. and South Korea to tackle the North Korean nuclear issue.

“Ambassador Baker underscored the importance of further cooperation among the three countries in dealing with North Korea,” Fukuda told a news conference after the meeting.

Fukuda said he conveyed Japan’s “grave concern” to Baker, adding, “We will seek to resolve this concern through our normalization talks with North Korea.”

Washington has decided to send Kelly and John Bolton, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, to Japan and South Korea to discuss the issue, he said.

Kelly left Washington on Wednesday for Beijing, where he will set the details of Chinese President Jiang Zemin’s visit to the U.S. later this month, and fly to Seoul on Saturday and stay in Tokyo on Sunday and Monday, Hashimoto said.