• Kyodo

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Japan and the United States plan to hold high-level security talks Dec. 16 to discuss North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and a possible U.S. attack on Iraq, Japanese and U.S. sources said Thursday.

It will be the first “two-plus-two” meeting of foreign and defense ministers of the two countries since President George W. Bush took office in January 2001.

They held their last security meeting in September 2000.

Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi and Defense Agency chief Shigeru Ishiba will attend the talks in Washington with Secretary of State Colin Powell and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

The sources said Japan is seeking to discuss the North Korea and Iraq issues with the U.S. at the highest level as soon as possible.

North Korea earlier this month admitted having a program to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons. The U.S. has meanwhile threatened to use force against Iraq if Baghdad does not abandon its weapons of mass destruction.

The Japanese and U.S. officials are also expected to discuss the U.S.-led missile defense initiative.

The two nations are currently conducting a joint study on a system to protect Japan and U.S. forces deployed around the country from ballistic missile attacks.

The U.S. hopes Japan will soon move beyond the research stage to the development of a missile defense system.

Washington is expected to increase the pressure on Tokyo to advance to the development stage in light of North Korea’s ongoing development of long-range missiles and its recent admission about its nuclear arms program.

Japan plans to decide by 2003 or 2004 whether to move to the development stage, but there has been little progress in domestic debate on the issue.

The two countries will hold a working-level meeting of officials in charge of foreign and defense affairs as early as mid-November to prepare for the upcoming talks, the sources said.

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