Envoy, Koizumi differ on North Korea nuclear project

An international project to build nuclear reactors in North Korea may be suspended or canceled if concerns over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons development program are not resolved, Japan’s ambassador in charge of normalization talks with the secretive country said Monday.

According to Katsunari Suzuki, talks to normalize diplomatic ties between Tokyo and Pyongyang that are set to resume next week will also become stalled if North Korea refuses to abandon its nuclear program.

Japan must consider suspending or canceling the reactor project if it becomes apparent that North Korea is violating international agreements on nuclear development, Suzuki told a news conference at the Foreign Ministry.

“Once we determine after looking from all angles that (North Korea) is carrying out nuclear development, then we must at the very least suspend (the project) and in certain cases must think about terminating it,” Suzuki said.

Later in the day, however, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi criticized Suzuki’s brinkmanship toward North Korea, urging him to do his utmost to advance the talks first.

“It is important that we try to resolve our various concerns (over Pyongyang) by engaging North Korea in the upcoming normalization talks,” Koizumi told reporters at his official residence when asked about Suzuki’s remarks. “He should not say anything negative before the talks even begin.”

The Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization, a United States-led international consortium, is constructing two light-water nuclear reactors in North Korea. The project is being funded primarily by the U.S., Japan, South Korea and the European Union.

Pyongyang has reportedly admitted to Washington to having a secret nuclear weapons development program — in violation of international accords — prompting the U.S. to decide to annul the 1994 Agreed Framework that it signed with North Korea.

Under the terms of the bilateral accord, North Korea pledged to freeze its nuclear weapons program in exchange for the nuclear reactor project.

Suzuki, who will lead Japan’s delegation at the normalization negotiations with Pyongyang, added that if no progress is made toward resolving the issue, the talks will “come to a stop.”

The two-day normalization negotiations are scheduled to begin Oct. 29 in Kuala Lumpur.