- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 30, 2002

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia Blaming the United States for pushing it into a corner, North Korea yesterday rejected demands that it give up its nuclear-weapons program, Japanese officials said.
The rejection came during an acrimonious opening round of talks with Japan on establishing diplomatic ties. These were the first such talks in two years, and hopes were high that North Korea would offer some sort of concession on the nuclear issue and growing outrage in Japan about the kidnapping of Japanese citizens in the 1970s and '80s.
But along with ignoring calls to halt its nuclear-weapons development, North Korea strongly rebuffed Japan on the abduction issue, heightening an already-emotional tug of war between the Asian neighbors.
"Not much progress," Japanese delegation chief Katsunari Suzuki said as he returned from the talks.
Still, officials said talks would continue as scheduled today.
Since North Korea acknowledged its nuclear-arms program this month, Japan has insisted scrapping it was a precondition for normalization between the longtime rivals.
North Korea "completely denied" calls for the country to give up its nuclear-weapons program, a senior Japanese delegation official said. North Korea blamed concerns about its nuclear-weapons program on the United States, saying the hard-line U.S. stance against it was the "root of the problem," said the official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
The North has long justified efforts to bolster its military by claiming that the presence of tens of thousands of U.S. troops in Japan and South Korea is a threat against which it must be able to defend itself.
"Japan wants to focus on the abduction and security issues," said Pak Ryong Yeon, the North Korean delegation's No. 2 official. "But our thinking is that if we work toward diplomatic ties, then the security issues will be solved along the way."
North Korea acknowledged the secret nuclear-weapons program to a visiting senior U.S. official this month. For Japan, the news was especially frightening because Pyongyang has demonstrated that it can fire missiles well beyond Japan's main islands.
The normalization talks are the offshoot of an unprecedented Sept. 17 summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. But the nuclear issue and Japanese anger about the abductions have soured the budding detente.
Revelations that just five Japanese abductees survive from the 13 kidnapped by North Korea caused widespread anger in Japan.
The five survivors are in Japan for their first homecoming. But Tokyo announced last week it will not return them to North Korea as planned and is demanding that their seven children, as well as the American husband of one, be allowed to travel to Japan.
In yesterday's talks, the North Koreans accused Japan of breaking a promise to return the five, prompting Japan to remind Pyongyang that the five abductees were "the victims of a criminal act."
Even so, Japanese officials acknowledged they did not persuade North Korea to set a date for the children's departure.
North Korean officials have criticized Japan for overreacting to the abduction issue, saying it was insignificant compared with Japan's brutal colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 until its World War II defeat in 1945.
North Korea was expected to press Japan today for compensation for the colonial period and economic aid.

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