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South Korea, Japan to Cooperate on N. Korean Policy - 2003-01-16

South Korean President-elect Roh Moo-hyun and Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi agree their nations must develop a joint strategy to calm tensions over North Korea's nuclear weapons development. The two met as part of an international diplomatic drive to defuse the dispute.

South Korea's next president and Japan's foreign minister decided to coordinate policy on North Korea. Pyongyang is now locked in a dispute with its neighbors and the United States over its ambitions to develop a nuclear arsenal.

President-elect Roh Moo-hyun's spokesman says the two stressed the importance of working together as well as with Washington to resolve the issue. But they did not unveil any specific plans.

Mr. Roh met with Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi for an hour Thursday in Seoul.

Ms. Kawaguchi, along with other Japanese leaders, wants Japan and South Korea to join the five permanent members of the United Nation's Security Council in talks to peacefully end the North's nuclear build up. Her aides say they have high hopes for a breakthrough at inter-Korean cabinet level talks in Seoul next week.

Ms. Kawaguchi's visit to Seoul has been overshadowed by Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi's visit to the Yasukuni shrine, which honors the country's World War II dead. South Korea and other Asian nations say the monument glorifies Japan's militarist history.

Protesters demonstrated in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul Wednesday, and President Kim Dae-jung canceled a meeting with Ms. Kawaguchi, citing a scheduling conflict.

Despite the flap, Japan and South Korea are working to present a united front on North Korea's nuclear ambitions. Both are within striking range of North Korean missiles. But while South Korea has continued with humanitarian and financial aid projects to help the North, Japan has curbed most aid and halted normalization talks with Pyongyang.

Japan and North Korea have yet to resolve a dispute over Japanese citizens the North kidnapped decades ago for spying purposes. Five of the abductees are now in Japan, but Pyongyang demands they return.

The United States' report in October that North Korea had admitted it had a secret nuclear weapons program also stunned Japan.

Also Thursday, North Korea offered to hold talks with South Korea next week over efforts to open railways and roads across their border. It was not clear if Seoul would agree to the talks, since already the two governments are holding cabinet level discussions next week on several issues, and talks on reunions for families separated by the border.