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North Korea Urged to Resume Talks

Times Staff Writer

Senior U.S. and Japanese officials urged North Korea on Saturday to resume negotiations aimed at eliminating its nuclear weapons program, while a top Chinese diplomat visited Pyongyang to push the same message.

There were no immediate signs of progress.

In Pyongyang, foreign ministry officials reportedly rejected a revival of the six-party disarmament talks. And North Korea’s U.N. ambassador reportedly said the country needed nuclear weapons to deter a U.S. attack.

The flurry of high-level diplomatic activity reflected concern over the Communist regime’s Feb. 10 declaration that it had begun producing nuclear arms and U.S. allegations that Pyongyang may have provided nuclear material to Libya’s now-defunct weapons program.

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Both claims remain unconfirmed, but according to U.S. intelligence, Kim Jong Il’s regime had produced enough fissile material a few years ago to build several nuclear bombs.

“We share a concern about events on the Korean peninsula,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said at a news conference in Washington after she and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld met their Japanese counterparts.

Japan’s foreign minister, Nobutaka Machimura, called for an “early and unconditional resumption” of disarmament talks. “Should we let the time slip by, then I think it will only worsen the situation.”

White House officials tried to downplay Pyongyang’s declaration that it is a nuclear power, saying North Korea has made similar claims in the past. But Machimura appeared to disagree.

“Until now, until recently, they spoke more in vague terms and indirect terms,” he said. “And this is the first time that they have declared openly.”

In a joint statement, the U.S. and Japanese officials said North Korea’s nuclear program was a serious challenge to nonproliferation efforts and a threat to peace and stability in northeast Asia.

They urged Pyongyang to return to the six-party talks and commit itself “to the complete dismantlement of all its nuclear programs, including its uranium enrichment program, under credible international verification.”

Rice said the negotiations could help North Korea change its relationship with the rest of the world and could produce “mutual security guarantees.” She said Pyongyang must take the international community’s concerns seriously.

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“They ought to return to those talks so that people don’t have to contemplate other measures,” she said. “They have a path ahead of them.”

China’s government, North Korea’s only major ally, also urged Pyongyang to return to the negotiating table. Wang Jiarui, head of the Chinese Communist Party’s international department, met Saturday with North Korea’s second-ranking leader, Kim Yong Nam, according to Chinese news reports.

The six-party talks -- which involve the United States, Russia, China, Japan and North and South Korea -- have been in limbo since September, when North Korea refused to attend the fourth round of negotiations in China. Pyongyang later announced it would not participate because of what it called American aggression.

White House officials say they have sought to lower tensions and are seeking a diplomatic solution.

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“President Bush has repeated several times that the United States has no intention to attack North Korea nor invade it,” Rice said.

But North Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations, Han Sung Ryol, said in an interview published Saturday that his government had built nuclear weapons to deter a U.S. attack.

“We have no other option but to have nuclear weapons as long as the Americans try to topple our system,” he told South Korea’s JoongAng Ilbo newspaper, according to Associated Press. “If the United States withdraws its hostile policy, we will drop our anti-Americanism and befriend it. Then why would we need nuclear weapons?”

So far, Japan and the U.S. have left the heavy diplomatic lifting to China, hoping that Beijing’s economic leverage as North Korea’s largest trading partner can compel Pyongyang to restart negotiations.

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The Japanese and U.S. officials also addressed the issue of Taiwan. They warned China that Washington and Tokyo consider the need to defuse tensions over Taiwan, which Beijing says is a part of China, to be a “common strategic objective.” It is the first time Japan has formally tied its position on Taiwan to Washington’s tougher line, although it does not imply a shared military duty to protect the island.

“Japan has been careful not to use language like that before,” said Masashi Nishihara of Japan’s National Defense Academy.

“When it comes to the Korean peninsula issue, we need China’s cooperation. But things are changing very fast in the security field.”

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Times staff writer Bruce Wallace in Tokyo contributed to this report.


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