Japan called Friday for caution before a decision is taken to suspend a multinational project to build light-water nuclear reactors in North Korea because it could hinder a peaceful solution to the nuclear crisis, Japanese government officials said.

Vice Foreign Minister Yukio Takeuchi explained the Japanese position during a meeting with Charles Kartman, the visiting director general of the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization.

The officials said Takeuchi indicated that any decision to suspend the project should only be taken after North Korea responds to a proposal to start five-way dialogue involving Japan and South Korea. It is hoped such talks will peacefully resolve the crisis.

“Efforts are currently being made to realize the next round of multilateral talks to peacefully resolve the nuclear problem, and we hope the future of KEDO will be discussed closely by Japan, the United States and South Korea as well as KEDO’s secretariat,” Takeuchi was quoted as telling Kartman.

Kartman responded that KEDO’s secretariat wants to contribute to international efforts to resolve the problem peacefully, and that the future of the project will be discussed with Japan and other countries involved, the officials said.

Japan, the U.S. and South Korea, which are KEDO’s executive board members, have been coordinating policy on whether to move ahead with the project.

The U.S. has insisted that it may be halted as early as August, citing the difficulty of supplying major parts to build the reactors due to Pyongyang’s refusal to sign a protocol with KEDO concerning its obligations to pay compensation in the event of an accident.

South Korea has urged the U.S. to continue with the project, but Tokyo is increasingly inclined to suspend work unless Pyongyang agrees to sign the protocol and indicate a willingness to resolve the nuclear crisis.

KEDO is in charge of implementing a 1994 pact between Washington and Pyongyang known as the Agreed Framework, which requires North Korea to freeze and dismantle its nuclear facilities in exchange for the construction of the two light-water nuclear reactors and an interim supply of fuel oil.

In December, KEDO halted shipments of fuel oil provided by the U.S. after officials said North Korea had admitted to having a secret program to enrich uranium for nuclear arms. Since then, Washington has asserted that the project should be suspended.

Top defector may visit

The Japanese government may question Hwang Jang Yop, a former secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea who defected to South Korea in 1997, about the situation in North Korea, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said Friday.

Speaking at a House of Representatives special committee on rebuilding Iraq, Fukuda said, “We might have a chance to question (Hwang) in the future. We will make the necessary efforts to do so.”

But Fukuda indicated that Japan has to consider its relationship with South Korea carefully. Seoul is cautious about Hwang traveling abroad, apparently due to its own sensitive relations with Pyongyang.

“The Japanese government has yet to hear an official announcement (from Hwang) that he wants to visit here,” Fukuda said. “Our responsibility is not only limited to his safety while he is in Japan.”

Hwang, the highest-ranking North Korean official to have defected to South Korea, has expressed interest in visiting Japan.

He reiterated that wish during a meeting Wednesday with Japanese lawmakers and family members of three Japanese abducted by North Korean agents in the late 1970s and said by Pyongyang to have since died.

The lawmakers took the opportunity to invite Hwang to visit Japan because he is believed to know about the abductions and other issues.

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