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N. Korea Issues Ultimatum in Quest to Normalize Relations with Japan - 2002-11-05

North Korea warns it could resume testing long-range missiles unless progress is made toward normalizing relations with Tokyo. In the Japanese capital, the two countries resumed talks last week on establishing diplomatic ties, but made little headway.

North Korea's state-run Korea Central News Agency quoted a Foreign Ministry official as threatening to end a moratorium on missile tests. The broadcast said Pyongyang is growing frustrated with Tokyo for the lack of progress on establishing normal diplomatic ties.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said Tuesday he did not believe North Korea would end the moratorium, which expires next year.

Mr. Koizumi spoke through a translator after his meeting with the leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Cambodia. He refers to North Korea as the DPRK, or Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

"Also at the ASEAN+3 meeting this time, the leaders participating expressed their serious concern regarding the nuclear program of the DPRK (North Korea) because that is a matter of great concern for the peace and stability of this region," he said.

Some analysts, however, say North Korea may feel it has no choice.

Masao Okonogi, a specialist in North Korea at Japan's Keio University, says Pyongyang has offered to hold another round of bilateral talks. He says it fears Tokyo will reject the offer, and that the normalization process could be held up indefinitely.

The two sides last week held the first round of normalization talks in two years. The gathering followed a summit between Mr. Koizumi and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in September.

But last week's talks were mired in disagreements over Japan's demand that North Korea halt its suspected nuclear weapons program. Tokyo also wants Pyongyang to allow five Japanese abducted by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s to remain permanently in Japan.

The North Korean report said Japan took an illogical stance at last week's talks and that it has become necessary for Pyongyang to reconsider security matters, including nuclear and missile issues. It also reiterated the North's position that the nuclear issue can only be resolved through dialogue with the United States.

The United States said last month that Pyongyang admitted it operates a covert nuclear weapons program.

North Korea is thought to have long-range missiles that could strike Japan. In 1998, Pyongyang stunned the world when it test-fired a ballistic missile over Japanese territory.

Pyongyang agreed to suspend testing long-range missiles in 1999. Some experts say North Korea could build a rocket capable of delivering a bomb over an American city by 2005.