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Japan, S. Korea Committed to Peace on Korean Peninsula - 2002-12-24


Concerns about North Korea's efforts to open frozen nuclear facilities are mounting in South Korea and Japan. The two nations on Tuesday underscored their commitment to peacefully solving the problem. Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and South Korean President-elect Roh Moo-Hyun say they want a peaceful resolution to the situation on the Korean Peninsula.

Japan's Foreign Ministry says the two men spoke Tuesday by telephone for the first time since Mr. Roh won South Korea's presidential election last week. The ministry says they agreed to cooperate closely with each other and the United States regarding North Korea. Their conversation came as North Korea was breaking open seals securing a plant that makes nuclear fuel rods.

Mr. Roh has pledged to continue outgoing President Kim Dae-jung's policy of engaging North Korea. However, he also says he will work with the Bush administration to resolve the nuclear issue. President Bush favors a more hard-line approach. He has ruled out any talks before the Stalinist state gives up its nuclear programs.

South Korea's president-elect on Tuesday also met with ambassadors from China and Russia, seeking help in pressuring North Korea to end its nuclear weapons program.

Saturday, North Korea began removing security seals from an old reactor, spent fuel rods and a radioactive reprocessing laboratory. U.S. officials say the laboratory can reprocess the fuel rods to make enough plutonium for at least three nuclear bombs.

The United States, South Korea and Japan condemn the North's recent actions.

Japanese government spokesman Yasuo Fukuda says a declaration between Japan and North Korea, signed in September, states that each country must not take actions to threaten people's safety and must obey international laws on disarmament. He adds that Tokyo is very concerned over what he called the regrettable situation in North Korea.

Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi says it is important for North Korea to freeze its nuclear facilities. She says nations agree on this and she will seek further talks with Chinese and Russian officials on the matter.

North Korea says it was forced to reopen the nuclear facilities because the United States cut off fuel aid to the impoverished country. In 1994, Pyongyang agreed to halt its nuclear programs, which were capable of producing nuclear bombs. In return, the United States and its allies promised to supply it with oil and two safer nuclear power plants. However, in October, Washington revealed that Pyongyang had admitted to having a new program to make nuclear weapons. As a result, the fuel aid was halted.

North Korea insists the only way to resolve the situation is for the United States to sign a bilateral non-aggression treaty. But a U.S. State Department spokesman says the United States will not give in to blackmail.

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