• Kyodo

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Japan and South Korea agreed Saturday to work on resuming the six-party talks on North Korea’s nuclear programs and keep the freeze on a multilateral project to build two nuclear reactors there for another year instead of scrapping it altogether, a Japanese official said.

Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura reached the agreement in talks with South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun and Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister Ban Ki Moon. Machimura also warned of economic sanctions against North Korea.

Pyongyang should return to the multilateral talks “unconditionally” by the end of this year, Machimura was quoted as telling Roh.

The two sides agreed to work closely with the United States to resume the six-nation talks at an early date.

Machimura said Japan will start by urging North Korea to do so in bilateral talks starting Tuesday in Pyongyang on issues related to North Korea’s past abductions of Japanese nationals.

Roh indicated that a close tripartite alliance between South Korea, Japan and the United States is essential for reaching an end to the nuclear standoff and achieving an improved inter-Korean relationship.

Machimura responded that a close three-way alliance is necessary to boost “momentum” toward continuing the six-party talks, the Japanese official said.

North and South Korea, Japan, the United States, Russia and China failed to follow up on their agreement in June to reconvene the six-way talks by the end of September.

Machimura told Roh that the results of the upcoming talks with North Korea will be linked to Japan’s decision on whether to impose economic sanctions against Pyongyang.

Japan is demanding that North Korea disclose more information about the cases involving 10 Japanese citizens Tokyo says were abducted by North Korea but are still unaccounted for.

“There are calls for economic sanctions by people criticizing North Korea for a lack of sincerity” in settling the abduction issues, Machimura was quoted as telling Roh. The Japanese public has hardened its stance against North Korea, Machimura said.

Tokyo “will consider how to respond to such calls after seeing the results of the talks,” Machimura said.

Machimura and Ban supported a proposed extension of the ongoing freeze of an international project to build light-water nuclear reactors in North Korea instead of scrapping the project.

The New York-based multilateral consortium Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization is in charge of the project.

It decided in November 2003 to freeze it for 12 months after suspicions emerged in 2002 over North Korea’s nuclear development.

The executive members of KEDO, including Japan, South Korea and the United States, have neared a decision to extend the project’s freeze for another year, and are expected to make the final decision later this month. KEDO was established in 1995 under a 1994 agreement between North Korea and the U.S. that commits Pyongyang to freezing and eventually dismantling its graphite-moderated nuclear facilities reactor in return for two light-water nuclear reactors.

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