North Korea urged to resume arms talks

Pitch made by officials of U.S., Japan and China

February 20, 2005|By Bob Drogin | Bob Drogin,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON - Senior U.S. and Japanese officials urged North Korea yesterday to resume negotiations aimed at eliminating its nuclear weapons program, while a top Chinese official visited Pyongyang to push the same message. There were no immediate signs of progress.

In Pyongyang, North Korean Foreign Ministry officials reportedly rejected a revival of the so-called six-party disarmament talks. North Korea's U.N. ambassador was quoted as saying the country had to have nuclear weapons to deter a U.S. attack.

The flurry of diplomatic activity reflected concern over the Communist regime's declaration Feb. 10 that it has begun producing nuclear arms, and separate U.S. allegations that Pyongyang might have provided illicit nuclear material to Libya's now-defunct weapons program.

Both claims remain unconfirmed, but U.S. intelligence concluded several years ago that Kim Jong Il's regime had produced enough fissile material 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 talks.

White House officials tried to play down Pyongyang's recent declaration that it is a nuclear power, insisting that it has made similar alarming claims in the past. But Japan's foreign minister appeared to disagree.

"Until now, until recently, they spoke more in vague terms and indirect terms," Machimura 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 international nonproliferation efforts and a threat to peace and stability in northeast Asia.

They urged Pyongyang to return to the six-party talks and to commit "to the complete dismantlement of all its nuclear programs."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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