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Japan, S. Korea Renew Backing for 1994 Nuclear Accord With N. Korea

Japan and South Korea have renewed their backing for an accord under which Pyongyang agreed to stop developing nuclear weapons, despite news that North Korea is violating that pact. There are signs of differences between the United States and its Asian allies over their strategy toward the North.

The foreign ministers of South Korea and Japan say the 1994 Agreed Framework is a realistic option for containing North Korea's nuclear ambitions. They think without the accord, North Korea would be free to develop nuclear bombs.

Under the 1994 accord with Washington, North Korea promised to halt an earlier nuclear weapons program. In return, the energy-short country is to receive two nuclear power reactors and regular deliveries of fuel oil.

The top diplomats from Japan and South Korea met Monday at an international conference in Seoul.

Their meeting comes just before a gathering of the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization, or KEDO, which implements the 1994 pact. The KEDO members - the United States, Japan, South Korea and the European Union, will meet in New York Thursday to discuss the agreement and the fate of a load of oil en route to Pyongyang.

A tanker carrying more than 40,000 tons of oil left Singapore last week and is expected to arrive in North Korea in about a week. South Korean officials, however, say the ship may remain at sea until KEDO decides about new oil shipments.

Last month, the United States revealed that North Korea has admitted having a uranium enrichment program, in violation of the 1994 agreement. Since then, South Korea, Japan and the United States have spent days in intense diplomatic meetings. All three governments want Pyongyang to abandon the weapons program immediately, but have not yet agreed on how to accomplish that.

The top U.S. diplomat for Asia, James Kelly, is meeting with officials in Seoul Monday, after discussions with South Korean and Japanese diplomats in Tokyo over the past few days. Mr. Kelly has warned that the U.S. Congress is unlikely to approve funds for more oil supplies.

Japan and South Korea, however, have spent the past several months engaging North Korea in a series of meetings and joint projects. Analysts say they may be inclined to continue the fuel shipments.

All sides have been anxious to play down the appearance of differences among them.