WASHINGTON – Japan proposed in a trilateral meeting Wednesday in Washington that an international project to build light-water nuclear reactors in North Korea be suspended, conference sources said.
The proposal came in an attempt to bridge a gap between the United States and South Korea over the project. It is also aimed at pressing Pyongyang to agree to five-party multilateral talks on its nuclear weapons program involving North Korea, the U.S., China, Japan and South Korea, the sources said.
South Korea, which fears antagonizing its northern neighbor and wants the project to be continued, would not back the proposal, causing the three nations to extend their talks for another day.
As North Korean claims to be nuclear-armed, Washington has been seeking to suspend the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization project to build the two reactors in exchange for Pyongyang freezing and dismantling its nuclear weapons program.
Japan and South Korea had called for caution in suspending the KEDO project and dealing with the nuclear issue at the U.N. Security Council.
The three countries are believed to have also exchanged views on a U.S.-proposed U.N. Security Council statement to denounce North Korea’s nuclear arms program.
Emerging from two-hour talks at the U.S. State Department, Mitoji Yabunaka, head of the Japanese Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, and Lee Su Hyok, South Korean assistant secretary of foreign affairs and trade, told reporters there will be another meeting Thursday.
James Kelly, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs represented Washington at the gathering.
Lee said the three countries have no plans to make any decision on North Korea’s nuclear arms program. Lee and Yabunaka declined to elaborate.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the three countries are discussing “how to move forward along the track that we have set, finding a peaceful and diplomatic solution that results in a nonnuclear (Korean) peninsula.”
KEDO is in charge of implementing a 1994 U.S.-North Korea agreement that requires Pyongyang to freeze and dismantle its nuclear program in exchange for the construction of two light-water reactors and an interim supply of fuel oil.
Last December, KEDO stopped fuel-oil shipments to North Korea after U.S. officials said Pyongyang admitted to having a secret program to enrich uranium for nuclear arms.
In late April, China sponsored talks in Beijing between the U.S. and North Korea at which Pyongyang reportedly told U.S. officials that it possesses nuclear weapons.
The U.S. and North Korea have been unable to agree on the format of further talks. North Korea insists it will speak only to the U.S., but Washington wants a multilateral format involving Japan, South Korea and China at the initial stage.
The U.S.-Japan-South Korea meeting coincided with a visit by Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wang Yi to Washington to discuss bilateral and regional issues, including North Korean nuclear concerns.
Wang met separately with Kelly and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage on Tuesday and held talks with John Bolton, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, and other U.S. officials on Wednesday.
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