• Kyodo

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North Korea’s development of atomic weapons and the means to deliver them may prompt Japan to consider becoming a nuclear power, U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney said Sunday.

“The idea of a nuclear-armed North Korea with ballistic missiles to deliver those will, I think, probably set off an arms race in that part of the world. And others, perhaps Japan, for example, may be forced to consider whether or not they want to readdress the nuclear question,” Cheney said on the NBC TV program “Meet the Press.”

“That’s not in China’s interest, and we’ve been working with China, with Japan and (South) Korea — I’m going to be out there next month,” he said.

Cheney was responding to a question over why Washington is considering military action against Iraq but not against North Korea, which is widely seen as a more immediate threat since it may already be nuclear-armed, and why the U.S. does not at least engage in bilateral talks with Pyongyang to try to resolve the nuclear crisis.

He said the U.S. recognizes that the situation in North Korea is “very serious” and is “thoroughly engaged diplomatically in an effort to deal with it.”

“Each set of circumstances we’re faced with around the world is different,” he said. “It doesn’t automatically mean an approach that makes sense in Iraq is necessarily an approach that would make sense in North Korea.”

Referring to North Korea, he said: “We think the key is a multilateral approach. Everybody always wants us to be multilateral and we think it’s appropriate here.”

He said Washington is trying to “put together an effective international approach to North Korea to make it clear to them that it is not in their interest to proceed with building more nuclear weapons.”

Noting that the International Atomic Energy Agency has referred to the U.N. Security Council the matter of North Korea’s violation of its nuclear safeguards agreements, he said, “The U.N.’s going to have to come to grips with it.

“It also is important that our friends in the region deal effectively with it,” he said. “They’re far more directly affected than we are — Japan, South Korea and especially China.”

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