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S. Korea, Japan Express Support for Suspension of Oil Shipments to N. Korea - 2002-11-16

South Korea and Japan express support for the suspension of oil shipments to North Korea and warn of further isolation if the North does not abandon its nuclear program.

A senior South Korean official warns North Korea will become more diplomatically isolated and impoverished unless it gives up its nuclear weapons program. His comment comes after an international consortium on Thursday decided to halt shipments of fuel oil deliveries to the North.

The official also says the ball is now in North Korea's court, and that South Korea and other countries want Pyongyang to understand they are serious about pressuring it until the weapons program is abandoned.

North Korea has yet to respond to the halting of the fuel shipments.

South Korea, Japan, the European Union and the United States are all members of the Korean Peninsula Energy Program, or KEDO, which met in New York and agreed to stop the oil shipments to punish the Stalinist state for secretly developing nuclear weapons.

The North admitted the existence of the program when questioned by U.S. diplomats last month. The program violates a 1994 deal with Washington, under which the North vowed to freeze its nuclear weapon activities, in return for a $5 billion package administered by KEDO. The package includes the construction of two light water reactors, and annual deliveries of 500,000 tons of heavy fuel oil.

Analysts say the suspension will have a dramatic impact on the North's already devastated economy. The deliveries are thought to account for 10-15 percent of the impoverished country's current power output, where cities already regularly experience blackouts.

Japan, along with South Korea, hails KEDO's verdict. Japanese government spokesman Yasuo Fukuda said Friday that he is pleased KEDO members were able to reach a conclusion through close consultations. He hopes that North Korea will accept the group's call, and urges it to abolish its nuclear weapons program.

Japan has never established diplomatic relations with the North. A round of talks last month on the issue ended without progress, overshadowed by the nuclear issue as well as a flap over Japanese nationals abducted by the North who are now on their first homecoming in nearly 25 years.

Talks between North and South Korea on a series of joint projects are expected to continue, although those two nations remain technically at war after their conflict ended with no peace treaty in 1953.

Masanori Suzuki, a Tokyo-based North Korea analyst, said Seoul and Tokyo's support of the KEDO decision sends an important message to the North. He said they view abolishing the North's nuclear program as now more important than trying to cultivate ties with the communist state. He adds that for both countries, the nuclear issue presents a grave security threat.

North Korean envoys in Asia have previously warned that a halt in the oil shipments could trigger an angry response. Pyongyang has said many times that it will only discuss its nuclear program with the United States, and has suggested that the two nations sign a non-aggression treaty.