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Asian Countries Express Concern Over N. Korean Nuclear Statements - 2002-12-28

South Korea says it will send envoys to Russia and China to talk about ways to convince North Korea to halt its revived nuclear program. Japan is also concerned, following the North's announcement that it would expel U.N. inspectors from a nuclear complex.

Japan says North Korea is playing an "extremely dangerous game," and is expressing "regret" and concern over Pyongyang's decision on Friday to expel international inspectors.

Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi says, perhaps it is time for the United Nations Security Council to take up the matter. Both Tokyo and Seoul say North Korea is pursuing "nuclear brinksmanship" in an apparent effort to get Washington to the negotiating table.

On Friday, North Korea said the two U.N. inspectors monitoring the Yongbyon nuclear facilities must eave. It recently placed covers over monitoring cameras and removed seals of the International Atomic Energy Agency at the facilities. North Korea recently began moving spent nuclear fuel rods into a building housing a reactor.

The government says it needs the plant to generate badly needed electricity, since a U.S.-led consortium cut off fuel oil shipments for what it said were other nuclear violations. International experts say the facility's only real function would be to produce plutonium for weapons.

Amid fears that the North Koreans could produce plutonium weapons within months, South Korea says it is sending diplomats to Beijing and Moscow. China and Russia are the two most powerful countries maintaining friendly relations with North Korea. Both nations, so far, have responded coolly to U.S. requests to apply pressure on Pyongyang.

In another move increasing tension, the North Korean army this month placed light machine guns in the Demilitarized Zone, says the United Nations. The U.N. released a photograph on Friday showing troops with the weapons in the DMZ, which separates North and South Korea. Under terms of the 1953 armistice, which ended hostilities on the Korean peninsula, such weapons are not allowed in the Demilitarized Zone.

North Korea's relations with much of the world have steadily deteriorated since Washington announced in October that Pyongyang had admitted re-starting a program using highly enriched uranium.

The White House says it will not negotiate in response to threats or broken commitments. The Bush administration says it wants a peaceful resolution, and will work with its friends and allies to achieve this.