Verifying North report crucial: G8

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KYOTO — The Group of Eight foreign ministers ended their meeting Friday in Kyoto by stressing the importance of ensuring that North Korea abandons its nuclear activities.

“We have agreed that firm verification of the nuclear declaration is needed,” Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura, who served as the meeting’s chair, told reporters after the meeting, referring to Pyongyang’s submission Thursday of a document declaring its nuclear activities, although it made no mention of its atomic weapons.

“The six-party talks (to denuclearize the North) are now facing an extremely important phase. We have agreed to promote the process tenaciously toward the eventual goal,” Komura said.

The foreign ministers came to Kyoto to attend the two-day meeting, which coincided with Pyongyang’s long-overdue submission of its declaration of nuclear activities and the U.S. response to start the process of removing the North from its list of states sponsoring terrorism.

Closing the session, the foreign ministers in a statement also pledged to cooperate further to pressure Iran to stop its uranium-enrichment activities, expressed serious concerns over the presidential election in Zimbabwe and called on the Myanmar junta to ensure international aid reaches victims of the recent killer cyclone that devastated the country.

“We strongly urge Iran to cooperate fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency, in particular by answering all of the IAEA’s questions without further delay, and to comply with its international obligations, in particular to suspend all enrichment-related activities,” the statement read.

Tokyo, this year’s chair of G8 meetings, was using the foreign ministers’ meeting to garner international support to pressure North Korea over its denuclearization, as well as the issue of Japanese nationals abducted by the North’s agents in the 1970s and 80s.

According to Komura and Japanese diplomats, the ministers expressed support and understanding during the meeting for Japan’s call for the international society to help resolve the abduction issue.

“The U.S. has told North Korea that the abduction issue is not just an issue for Japan. It is also an issue for the U.S. and is an international human rights issue,” U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said at the news conference.

Whether pressuring North Korea will work, however, remains to be seen.

The association of relatives of Japanese abductees has exerted great influence over Japan’s diplomacy by winning overwhelming public sympathy. The group has already started criticizing Washington and Tokyo for making too many concessions to the North without any substantial progress being made in the abduction issue.

Trying to soothe the feelings of the Japanese public, Rice repeated in Kyoto that the U.S. will closely monitor Pyongyang’s actions in the denuclearization processes and keep pressuring the North on the kidnappings.

“We know North Korea has a record of not always living up to its commitments. We’ll monitor very carefully during the next 45 days, but also well beyond that,” Rice said at the news conference regarding the time period before the White House’s decision to remove Pyongyang from its terrorist list takes effect.

“The parties to the six-party talks have the capacity to bring about further consequences should the North not live up to its obligations,” she said.

After the news conference, Rice and Komura held bilateral talks and met reporters afterward in an apparent effort to publicly emphasize the strength of Japan-U.S. ties over North Korean issues.

“During the (bilateral) meeting, we confirmed the importance of the Japan-U.S. relationship, and agreed to continue to cooperate closely,” Komura told reporters.

“We will continue to press North Korea to resolve the (abduction) issue early and in a positive manner,” Rice said.

Having the North listed as a terrorist state has been a powerful negotiating tool for the U.S., as Pyongyang has appeared to be keen to remove itself from the black list and thereby end the country’s financial isolation from the rest of the world.

Although Tokyo and the abductees’ relatives have asked the U.S. not to delist Pyongyang and to keep pressuring the North, Washington announced it has started the process of delisting the North in response to Pyongyang’s submission of the nuclear declaration.

During a news conference June 20, Komura said he would ask Rice to keep North Korea on the list to maintain negotiating leverage over Pyongyang.

But according to a senior Foreign Ministry official who briefed reporters, Komura only asked Rice at the meeting to “make the utmost efforts” to resolve the abduction issue, and did not specifically mention the North’s delisting.

In response, Rice said the U.S. will “never forget” the abduction issue and will work closely with Japan to resolve it, the official said. At the same time, Rice stressed that even if the U.S. removed North Korea from the terrorist list, many U.S. economic sanctions against the North would remain in place, according to the official.

Additional reporting by Shihoko Nagayama