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US, Japan Press North Korea on Nuclear Agreement

Senior U.S. and Japanese cabinet members Tuesday called on North Korea to immediately fulfill its part of the February six-party agreement on its nuclear program. The issue figured heavily in Washington talks Tuesday involving Rice, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and their Japanese counterparts. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

North Korea is now more than two weeks overdue in fulfilling commitments under the nuclear agreement, and both the United States and Japan are signaling impatience.

Pyongyang was to have shut down its main reactor complex with 60 days of the March 13 agreement, under which North Korea committed to eventually scrapping its entire nuclear program, including weapons, in exchange for energy aid and other benefits.

But it has not yet closed the Yongbyon reactor, citing problems in collecting $25 million in frozen funds from a Chinese bank that had been sanctioned by the United States as a conduit for illicit North Korean financial activity.

Wrapping up talks involving herself, Gates, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso and Defense Minister Fumio Kyuma, Rice said the allies - both parties to the six-nation talks - want to see immediate North Korean action.

She said the process of freeing the North Korean money was more complicated than anyone had expected, but that the implementation process is not open-ended.

"We are going to continue to consult," she said. "We don't have endless patience. We do recognize that North Korea has continued to publicly affirm its obligation under the February 13 agreement, and to affirm its intention to carry through. We expect them to do so."

Ms. Rice did not say what would happen if the impasse continues.

However last weekend at a Camp David meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, President Bush said if the North Korea fails to make the right choice, there is a strategy to assure that pressure initially applied to that government becomes greater.

North Korea entered into the February nuclear deal a few months after being hit with strict U.N. Security Council sanctions for the nuclear test it conducted last October.

On other issues, Rice, Gates and their Japanese counterparts pledged to make steadfast progress on the sweeping agreement reached last year to realign U.S. forces in Japan in order to reduce the burden American bases pose to the country's population.

A U.S. Marine Corps air station is being moved from next to a busy city in Okinawa to a more remote location, and several thousand Marines are being shifted from Okinawa to Guam, a U.S. Pacific territory.

A joint statement issued here called the U.S.-Japanese security relationship the bedrock of Japan's defense and the keystone of peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region.

It said North Korean provocations, including its nuclear test and missile launches last year, were stark reminders of the importance of transforming the U.S.-Japan alliance to ensure its continued effectiveness.

The statement also said it is a strategic objective of the two countries to encourage China to conduct itself as a responsible international stakeholder, to improve the transparency of its military affairs, and to maintain consistency between its stated policies and its actions.

Foreign Minister Aso reiterated concern over China's anti-satellite test in January, the first known test of a satellite-killer system in 20 years.

Defense Secretary Gates welcomed the Japanese decision, also in January, to elevate its defense agency to the status of a full ministry.

He said the move is a reflection of the importance Japan places on making a positive contribution to global peace and security.