WASHINGTON – Japan, the United States and South Korea agreed Thursday on the need to create a blueprint to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue.
The U.S.-proposed plan would be presented to Pyongyang if the country agrees to participate in five-way talks.
The three countries could not agree, however, on whether a project to build light-water nuclear reactors under the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO) should be suspended.
Senior officials from the three countries ended two days of talks, having discussed “concrete ideas” to resolve the standoff on the peninsula if the five-way talks take place, a Japanese official told reporters.
The proposed talks would also involve China.
The official said the U.S. commented on such ideas presented by Japan and South Korea but put forward none itself.
Japan and South Korea apparently addressed the issues of a U.S. security guarantee, economic and energy assistance and other measures that could be taken if North Korea abandons its nuclear weapons program.
U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher described the meeting as a “brainstorming session.”
The three countries exchanged ideas on how to “get North Korea to abandon its nuclear programs and to do that in a peaceful manner through multilateral discussions,” Boucher said.
The Japanese official said the three countries will continue discussions on specific measures to resolve the issue. Their basic view will be conveyed to North Korea through China, he said.
In late April, China sponsored talks in Beijing between the U.S. and North Korea. Japan and South Korea had wanted to participate in those talks but were excluded due to opposition from Pyongyang.
The U.S. and North Korea have not agreed on the format of any continuation of the April talks. Pyongyang insists it will speak only to the U.S., but Washington also wants five-way talks.
At the Washington meeting, the three countries also discussed the continuation of the KEDO project to build two light-water nuclear reactors and a U.N. Security Council statement denouncing North Korea’s nuclear arms programs.
They basically agreed it would be difficult for KEDO to build the nuclear reactors as long as Pyongyang pursues nuclear arms, but the three countries seemed to remain apart on specifics, such as when the project should be suspended.
Boucher said the KEDO executive board will decide on the continuation of the project “at an appropriate time.”
KEDO is an international consortium in charge of implementing a 1994 U.S.-North Korea agreement that requires Pyongyang to freeze and eventually dismantle its weapons-grade nuclear facilities in exchange for the construction of two light-water reactors and an interim supply of 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.
The U.S. has been seeking to suspend the reactor construction project, but Japan and South Korea have called for caution.
On the proposed U.N. Security Council statement denouncing the North’s nuclear ambitions, the three countries agreed that full attention should be paid to the timing of its adoption, the Japanese official said.
The U.S. has presented a draft statement to the other permanent U.N. Security Council members.
Japan and South Korea are concerned that the early adoption of such a statement would make it difficult for North Korea to agree to the five-way talks.
Mitoji Yabunaka, head of the Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, represented Japan at the meeting. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs James Kelly led the U.S. team. Representing South Korea was Lee Su Hyok, assistant secretary of foreign affairs and trade for the country.
The trilateral meeting coincided with a visit by Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wang Yi to Washington. Wang held a series of talks Tuesday and Wednesday with senior U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Colin Powell.
A senior U.S. official said there was no information from Wang indicating a change in North Korea’s negotiating position of discussing the nuclear issue directly with the U.S. before talks including China.
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