Japanese and South Korean officials have been quoted as expressing hopes that a U.S.-led consortium's decision to suspend construction of two nuclear reactors in North Korea will prompt the isolated communist state to abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions.
The Associated Press quotes Japanese government spokesman Jiro Okuyama as urging North Korea to take seriously Friday's decision by the Korean Energy Development Organization, or KEDO, to halt work on nuclear power reactors in the North.
Mr. Okuyama says Japan wants to see a positive response from North Korea, to dismantle its nuclear weapons development program in an "irreversible, complete, and verifiable manner."
KEDO was building the power plants under a 1994 accord between the United States and North Korea. Under that pact, the North agreed to abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions in exchange for international assistance to construct atomic facilities for peaceful energy-generation purposes.
However, the accord has faced uncertainty since U.S. officials said last year that North Korea admitted running a secret nuclear program in violation of this and other international agreements.
A U.S. State Department spokesman said Thursday that "there's no future" for KEDO's North Korean atomic power plant project. But the AP quotes Japanese spokesman Okuyama as saying KEDO could resume construction if Pyongyang abandoned its weapons program.
South Korea and the European Union, members in KEDO along with the United States and Japan, have expressed similar views.
In Seoul Saturday, the AP quoted an unnamed South Korean spokesman as expressing hope that the KEDO suspension would not affect the chances for a second round of six-nation talks on the North Korean nuclear standoff. Those talks involve the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States.
North Korea has agreed in principle to participate in a second round, and diplomats from several countries have said the new talks could take place before the end of the year.
Meanwhile, North Korea has hit back at U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for calling the Pyongyang government "evil" during his recent visit to East Asia. A statement issued by Pyongyang's official KCNA news agency Saturday accused Washington of deception, and called Rumsfeld a "butcher" worse than Hitler.
The statement came as U.S. Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly wrapped up an Asian tour to coordinate policy for the hoped-for second round. It said the Rumsfeld's comments about North Korea "cannot but cast doubt about the prospect of the six-way talks."