Tokyo-Pyongyang talks may stall

Japan will not move beyond the upcoming round of normalization talks with North Korea unless progress is made on the issue of Pyongyang’s nuclear development program, Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi said Monday.

Kawaguchi’s remark came during talks at the Foreign Ministry with visiting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly, according to a ministry official.

Japan and North Korea are slated to resume talks on normalizing diplomatic ties on Oct. 29 in Kuala Lumpur, but whether subsequent rounds will be held depends on whether Pyongyang responds to international calls to abandon its nuclear program, the official said.

During the two-day talks, which begin Oct. 29, Japan will take up the nuclear development program as a “top priority,” along with the issue of Japanese citizens abducted to North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s, Kawaguchi was quoted as saying.

North Korea’s program to enrich uranium for developing nuclear weapons is a serious threat to Japan’s security, Kawaguchi said, adding that Japan will demand that Pyongyang abandon the program and abide by international agreements.

Kelly said the United States “has not made any decision” on scrapping its 1994 accord with North Korea, under which Pyongyang promised to freeze its nuclear development in exchange for receiving two light-water nuclear reactors, the official said.

That comes in contrast to a New York Times report Sunday that said the U.S. administration has decided to abandon the 1994 accord. On Monday, Kelly said the U.S. will consult closely with Japan and South Korea on what steps to take regarding the accord.

Kelly said the U.S. wants North Korea to “visibly end” the nuclear program and is seeking a “peaceful solution” to the issue through cooperation with Japan, South Korea and other countries in the region, the official said.

Kawaguchi and Kelly confirmed that Japan, the U.S. and South Korea will coordinate their policies to deal with the issue in the trilateral summit talks to be held Saturday on the sideline of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Mexico, the official said.

Later in the day, Kelly met with Shigeru Ishiba, director general of the Defense Agency, at a Tokyo hotel. Kelly told Ishiba that the cooperation of China and Russia will be important in halting North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, Japanese officials said.

Referring to an earlier remark by U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that North Korea could have “two or three” nuclear warheads, Kelly said it is necessary to end Pyongyang’s program to enrich uranium development and to inspect its suspected plutonium development, they said.

Ishiba told Kelly that Japan will not normalize relations with North Korea until concerns such as the abduction of Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s, nuclear weapons and missile development and the operation of spy ship activities in waters near Japan are resolved.

Kelly said he felt encouraged by Tokyo’s position, the officials said.