- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 7, 2003

SEOUL — North Korea dealt a blow yesterday to prospects for further multilateral talks aimed at curbing its nuclear weapons development, saying it will not allow Japan to participate in any new dialogue because it is untrustworthy.

North Korea’s Foreign Ministry said it “would not allow Japan to participate in any form of negotiations for the settlement of the nuclear issue in the future.”

Japan firmly rejected the North Korean position, saying it had a role to play in any talks on the nuclear issue. “We simply cannot accept such a statement,” Japanese government spokesman Jiro Okuyama said at a regional summit in Bali.

Washington also rejected Pyongyang’s demand, saying Japan’s participation was crucial because North Korea’s secret nuclear programs directly threaten its security.

“Japan is a neighbor of North and South Korea and has vital interests at stake in the nuclear issue and in other areas as well,” said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher yesterday.

“Japan clearly must and will continue to be a participant to the talks in order to achieve a diplomatic solution to North Korea’s nuclear arms program,” he added.

Although North Korea frequently issues belligerent statements, often as a way to gain leverage over its adversaries, its latest assertion complicates efforts by the United States and its allies to restart six-nation nuclear talks.

In August, the United States, China, Russia, the two Koreas and Japan held talks in Beijing aimed at addressing the North’s nuclear ambitions. Tokyo used the talks to raise another issue it considers pivotal — abductions of its citizens decades ago by the communist state.

It was not clear whether the statement, carried by the North’s official KCNA news agency, meant North Korea would agree to a future meeting if Japan is excluded.

Ever since the August meeting ended without plans for a next round, North Korea has said it is no longer interested in further talks.

“Japan is nothing but an obstacle to the peaceful settlement of the nuclear issue between the DPRK and the U.S.,” the North Korean statement said, using the acronym of the North’s official name, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. “It has lost its qualification to be a trustworthy dialogue partner.”

China is attempting to stage a second round of the six-party talks, but U.S. officials yesterday said there has been little indication that the North Koreans are ready for real negotiations.

“They haven’t really engaged in a serious way in these talks,” a senior State Department official, briefing reporters on background, said yesterday.

North Korea accused Japan of abusing the nuclear talks to raise the “issue of abduction,” which the North says has already been settled.

The Japanese public was outraged when North Korean leader Kim Jong-il admitted in September 2002 that his nation’s agents had systematically kidnapped Japanese decades ago. North Korea has allowed the return of five kidnapped Japanese.

Staff writer David R. Sands in Washington contributed to this report.

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