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North Korea Wants Japan Out of Nuclear Talks

North Korea says there is no longer any place for Japan in multinational talks aimed at ending the North's nuclear weapons programs. The comment is the latest in a series of demands and justifications Pyongyang has cited for refusing to return to the bargaining table.

North Korea says it is willing to return eventually to six-party talks aimed at its nuclear disarmament - but it demanded that Japan withdraw from the process. A statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency accused Japan of what it called the "cunning and vulgar" intention of exploiting the talks for its own self-interest.

The talks, which also involve the United States, South Korea, China, and Russia, have been suspended since June of last year, following three unproductive rounds.

North Korea has demanded Japan be excluded from the talks once before, in connection with a dispute over Japanese citizens that Pyongyang has admitted kidnapping in the 1970's and 1980's. Saturday's statement is only the latest in a series of reasons given by Pyongyang during the past nine months for refusing to participate in the talks.

International Relations Professor Lee Jong-hoon, of Seoul's Yonsei University, says North Korea's delays boil down to a basic strategy.

"In the end, it is about North Korea giving up its nuclear weapons programs and it is not ready to do that just as yet," he said. "So, it is making up all kinds of excuses."

In February, Pyongyang said it was suspending its participation indefinitely - saying it already possessed nuclear weapons, and intended to build more.

Just days ago, it issued a statement implying it wanted to change the entire focus of the talks, from its own nuclear disarmament to "arms reductions" by all countries involved. Washington rejected that suggestion.

Condoleezza Rice
Pyongyang has also refused to talk unless Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice apologizes for referring to the country as "an outpost of tyranny." It calls such comments proof of Washington's "hostile attitude."

Ambassador Christopher Hill, the chief U.S. delegate to the six-party party talks, also says North Korea's refusals to resume the talks are part of a pattern. In a speech to students in Seoul Friday, he traced refusals back to last year, when, he believes, Pyongyang was awaiting the outcome of the November presidential election.

"November came and went and still, the North Koreans have decided they do not want to come back," Ambassador Hill said. "And so, we now have a problem, because we cannot find another way to solve this except at the negotiating table."

North Korea experts say Pyongyang regularly seeks opportunities to drive diplomatic wedges between its five adversaries in the nuclear talks. Saturday's statement calling for Japan to withdraw made reference to a current dispute between Tokyo and Seoul over some small islands between Japan and the Korean peninsula.

The situation has become a highly emotional issue in South Korea. Despite the dispute Seoul and Tokyo say they will maintain a united front when it comes to Pyongyang's nuclear weapons.