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US, Japan Pledge to Enforce North Korea Sanctions

Japan and the United States say they will work together to swiftly implement punitive sanctions against North Korea. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice discussed the matter with her Japanese counterpart in Tokyo.

Speaking to reporters following their meeting, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso said they would work together for a swift and effective implementation of the U.N. Security Council's punitive sanctions against North Korea. The sanctions forbid trading activity that might help the North Korean nuclear program.

Japan's political opposition has opposed the idea of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces assisting U.S. forces in inspections of North Korean ships that might be carrying forbidden cargo.

But Rice said the United States is not looking to escalate the crisis by conducting such interdictions, a move North Korea would certainly consider extremely provocative. Pyongyang on Tuesday said it considers the U.N. sanctions a declaration of war, and will "deal merciless blows" against those violating its sovereignty.

"We want this very much to be done in a way that is steady, effective and brings close scrutiny to North Korean transfers," she said. "But this not a blockade or a quarantine. And so we want to work out the details. We will talk about it here and we will also talk about it on other places."

Such inspections would come under the Proliferation Security Initiative, begun in 2003, which aims to curb international traffic in weapons of mass destruction, their delivery systems, and related materials. More than 75 countries, including Japan, are participating in the initiative, which is mainly targeted at North Korea.

Rice and Aso are to go to Seoul for three-way talks Thursday with South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon. Rice is then scheduled to visit Beijing and Moscow.

China's response is seen as critical in enforcing Saturday's unanimous U.N. Security Council resolution. But Beijing has been sending mixed messages on how vigorously it will enforce the sanctions against Pyongyang, its long-time ally.

North Korea's impoverished economy relies on China as its main supplier of food and energy.

Earlier in the day, Foreign Minister Aso became the latest conservative in the Liberal Democratic Party to suggest Japan should begin discussion on whether to develop its own nuclear weapons. But standing besides Secretary Rice, Aso brushed off such talk, saying it is a long dormant issue being revived by the foreign media.

Aso says there is absolutely no possibility of the government changing Japan's long-held policy of not possessing nuclear weapons.