Japan and South Korea reaffirmed Saturday the importance of close cooperation among the two nations and the United States to seek a peaceful solution to the problem of North Korea’s nuclear program.

Vice Foreign Minister Yukio Takeuchi and Yim Sung Joon, senior secretary to the South Korean president for foreign policy and national security, exchanged views on the matter in Tokyo.

The meeting was held a day after North Korea announced its decision to pull out of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty — a move that provoked harsh criticism around the world.

“Japan, South Korea and the United States should cooperate with other nations involved to resolve the issue peacefully,” said Takeuchi. “North Korea’s decision to escalate the situation by withdrawing from the NPT is against international moves to peacefully solve the case.”

Yim pointed out that Pyongyang’s declaration that it would withdraw from the treaty is a “serious threat” to peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula, adding that South Korea is “deeply concerned and disappointed” by the move.

He expressed hope that a scheduled Cabinet-level meeting between South and North Korea, which begins Jan. 21, will be fruitful in resolving the nuclear issue.

Yim arrived in Japan on Friday after visiting the U.S. to hold talks with senior government officials.

Hiroshima’s protest

HIROSHIMA (Kyodo) Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba sent a letter Saturday to North Korean leader Kim Jong Il to protest Pyongyang’s decision Friday to withdraw from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

While North Korea says it does not intend to develop nuclear weapons, Akiba said he is concerned that Pyongyang’s expulsion of nuclear inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency will lead to the development of nuclear arms.

“Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is the wish of the people of Hiroshima as well as those who seek a peaceful world,” he said.

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