• Kyodo

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The leaders of Japan, China and South Korea reaffirmed their commitment Tuesday to solving the North Korean nuclear standoff through dialogue — but only vaguely addressed the abduction issue in their first-ever joint statement.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun also agreed to study an investment accord, though they stopped short of calling for a trilateral free-trade pact, according to the statement.

Nevertheless, Japanese officials described the statement as a key step forward in Japan’s relations with China and South Korea, which have often been strained by unresolved historical issues related to Japan’s invasion of China and the colonial occupation of the Korean Peninsula.

The nations are aiming to strengthen their “across-the-board and future-oriented” cooperation in economic, cultural and security areas, the statement says.

Referring to North Korea, the statement says: “The three countries reaffirm their commitment to a peaceful solution of the nuclear issue facing the Korean Peninsula through dialogue and to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, while addressing all the concerns of the parties and working together to maintain peace and stability on the Peninsula.”

The officials claimed that Tokyo’s concerns over past abductions of nationals by North Korea were addressed in the document as part of “all the concerns of the parties.”

They also said that China and South Korea had initially been unwilling to refer specifically to North Korea in a manner that would provoke Pyongyang, given that the six-nation dialogue framework launched in late August has since been stalled.

The six countries — China, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, Russia and the United States — agreed in the Beijing talks to maintain dialogue over the North’s nuclear weapons program but have been unable to arrange a second round.

Before meeting on a trilateral basis, the Chinese and South Korean leaders discussed how the issue could be “resolved through dialogue,” Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing told reporters.

On the economic front, the statement says that the countries “will explore, in a timely manner, the direction of a closer future economic partnership.”

But this statement constitutes minimal progress, as Tokyo has been reluctant to seek a free-trade agreement with China.

Instead, the nations agreed to push forward with World Trade Organization negotiations and to launch “an informal joint study on the possible modality of trilateral investment agreements.”

The leaders also agreed on the importance of food safety and to cooperate on trade piracy, U.N. reforms, disarmament and criminal investigations, as well as terrorism and other issues.

The three nations will set up a joint committee “to study, plan, coordinate and monitor the cooperation activities currently under way or envisaged by this Joint Declaration,” and have the panel submit progress reports to their annual summits.

Japan gets talks ban

SEOUL (Kyodo) North Korea declared Tuesday it will not allow Japan to take part in future multilateral talks aimed at resolving the dispute over the North’s nuclear weapons program.

In a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency, the North Korean Foreign Ministry accused Japan of trying to use the nuclear issue for its own benefit.

“The Japanese authorities have created obstacles to the settlement of the nuclear issue by being preoccupied with using the nuclear issue for its selfish purposes,” said the statement, according to a KCNA report monitored by South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency.

The statement also said the “prospects for resolving the nuclear issue with the United States are becoming more unclear because of the U.S. hostile policies” toward the North.

Japan took part in the first round of six-nation talks held in Beijing from Aug. 27 to 29, aimed at seeking a negotiated settlement of the nuclear impasse.

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