/ 21 November 2008

Call for N Korea to end nuke plan

Japan and South Korea have urged neighbouring North Korea to come up with a roadmap on ending its nuclear programme amid a long delay in a six-nation disarmament deal.

The agreement came in a meeting on Thursday on the sidelines of a regional conference in Peru where Japan and South Korea also took steps to patch up prickly relations.

Japanese Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone, who took office in September, held his first talks with his South Korean counterpart, Yu Myung-Hwan.

”North Korea should issue a solid document to verify the framework of its denuclearisation under the six-way talks,” Nakasone said.

Yu ”told me that he completely shares the view and said: ‘Let’s work together on this point heading into the next talks,’ ”, the Japanese foreign minister said.

Washington last month removed North Korea from a list of state sponsors of terrorism, saying Pyongyang had agreed to steps to verify its nuclear disarmament and pledged to resume the disabling of its atomic plants.

But nations involved in six-party talks – China, Japan, the United States, Russia, and the two Koreas – have yet to endorse a plan for the hard line communist state to fully verify its nuclear record.

Nakasone said Japan was asking China, the chair of the six-way talks, to arrange a new round. No meeting is set, even though China said in October that the talks would take place soon.

US President George W Bush, who once branded North Korea as part of an ”axis of evil”, defied some conservatives by pursuing the pact with Pyongyang, which stands to gain badly needed aid and security guarantees.

The White House said Bush hoped to make progress on North Korea at this weekend’s Asia-Pacific leaders’ summit in Lima, the outgoing president’s last scheduled foreign trip.

Japan had opposed the US decision to take North Korea off the terrorism blacklist due to a bitter row over Pyongyang’s abductions of Japanese civilians in the 1970s and 1980s to train its spies.

North Korea agreed in June to start a new probe into the abductions but announced a delay in the investigation in September as Prime Minister Taro Aso came to power.

The conservative premier has refused to provide aid to North Korea under the six-nation deal until there is progress on the abductions.

Japan also has uneasy relations with South Korea and China due to the legacy of Japanese aggression in the early 20th century.

In Seoul President Lee Myung-Bak’s office announced he would hold an inaugural three-way summit with Aso and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on December 13 in Aso’s home constituency of Fukuoka in southern Japan.

The meeting was scheduled for September but postponed following the sudden resignation of Japan’s prime minister at the time, Yasuo Fukuda.

Lee and Aso will also meet in Peru with Bush.

Relations between Japan and South Korea nosedived in July when Tokyo issued school textbook guidelines reaffirming Tokyo’s claim to small uninhabited islands controlled by Seoul.

The textbook dispute triggered angry protests in Seoul and stalled moves to draft a free-trade agreement between two of Asia’s biggest economies.

The foreign ministers at their meeting in Peru agreed to resume the free-trade talks on December 4, a Japanese government official said.

The South Korean won has been hit hard by the global economic crisis, leading Japan and China both to look to widen currency swaps with Seoul. – AFP