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S. Korea, Japan Continue Talks on N. Korean Nuclear Crisis - 2003-11-26

Japan and South Korea are consulting each other in anticipation that a new round of multilateral negotiations on the North Korean nuclear standoff will take place next month. South Korea says possible security pledges for North Korea would not necessarily protect its communist government.

South Korean Defense Minister Cho Young-kil arrived in Tokyo Wednesday for three days of meetings with his Japanese counterpart Shigeru Ishiba and other officials. Mr. Cho also will visit Japanese military bases. The two men are expected to focus their discussions on the threat posed by North Korea and its weapons arsenal.

Japan is deeply concerned about North Korean missile development and may decide to build a missile shield to protect itself. North Korea test-fired a ballistic missile over Japan in 1998, in an unexpected display of power that alarmed the nation.

In Seoul, Japan's chief negotiator on North Korea's nuclear weapons, Mitoji Yabunaka, met with his South Korean counterpart, Assistant Foreign Minister Lee Soo-hyuck. They discussed plans for a second round of talks to end the North's weapons programs. Japan, South Korea, the United States, Russia, China and North Korea held inconclusive talks in Beijing in August.

In Tokyo, Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi says she hopes the talks to resolve the crisis will resume quickly. She reiterates that the North Korean nuclear issue should end peacefully and diplomatically. She also notes that Japan and many other nations believe North Korea must abandon its nuclear ambitions.

New talks are expected to be held next month in Beijing, but no date has been set.

South Korean Foreign Minister Yoon Young-kwan said Wednesday that while Pyongyang's demands for a security guarantee are under discussion, it did not necessarily ensure the survival of the North's Stalinist government. He said security pledges would apply to North Korea's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Pyongyang says it must have a security treaty with the United States before it will dismantle its nuclear programs. Washington has rejected the idea, but has said it may offer Pyongyang a written security assurance instead.

The international standoff began in October 2002, when U.S. officials said North Korea admitted it was running a nuclear weapons program in violation of international agreements.