- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Asia agenda

The United States is discouraged by North Korea’s defiant position on its nuclear program and worried about tension between Japan and its neighbors over the Japanese prime minister’s visit to a controversial war shrine, the U.S. ambassadors in South Korea and Japan said yesterday.

Ambassador Alexander Vershbow in Seoul and Ambassador J. Thomas Schieffer in Tokyo explained the U.S. positions on a range of issues confronting two of Washington’s chief allies in Asia, according to reports from South Korea and Japan.

Mr. Vershbow expressed disappointment over the position taken by North Korea in the six-power talks aimed at eliminating the nuclear threat posed by the Stalinist nation.

“It remains to be seen whether North Korea is truly prepared to eliminate its nuclear programs and to do so in a prompt and verifiable manner,” he told the American Chamber of Commerce in South Korea. “The North Koreans’ tactics were not especially encouraging.”



In September, North Korea reached an agreement with China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States to eliminate its nuclear program in return for economic aid, security guarantees and improved diplomatic contacts with the five countries. Within hours of the agreement, North Korea demanded that the United States build it a civilian nuclear power plant before it abandons its nuclear weapons program.

Mr. Vershbow also told his audience that the Bush administration is worried about the tense relations between South Korea and Japan caused by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, where war criminals from World War II are honored, as are the 2.5 million other warriors who have died in Japan’s wars.

Both South Korea and China, victims of wartime Japanese atrocities, have condemned Mr. Koizumi’s annual visits, which began in 2001.

“It certainly causes us great distress to see two allies quarreling on such painful issues,” the ambassador said.

In Tokyo yesterday, Mr. Schieffer also discussed the pilgrimages to the shrine but explained that Japan must work out its differences with its neighbors without U.S. involvement.

“The United States is not the final arbitrator of every dispute, and I think that the differences that the Chinese and Japanese are having are ones that they have to address,” he told reporters at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan.

“I think Japan is trying to figure out how to honor its war dead, and I think that’s a decision that Japan has to conclude. I’m not sure that it is terribly helpful for foreigners to opine as to how that should be done.”

Mr. Schieffer also expressed concern over a Dec. 14 meeting of 16 nations called the East Asia Summit because the United States has not been invited. The summit will include the 10 nations of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations as well as Australia, China, Japan, India, New Zealand and South Korea.

“If it is an effort to exclude America from Asia, … then I think we will have a problem,” he said.

Catcalls

Veteran Palestinian diplomat Saeb Erekat has been around long enough to know it is foolhardy to try to handicap the domestic politics of Israel, our correspondent David R. Sands reports.

Addressing a packed house at the Palestine Center yesterday, Mr. Erekat said all Palestinians are closely following the seismic political shifts under way in Israel ahead of a planned March 28 parliamentary vote.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has broken with his conservative Likud Party base to form a centrist party, while the center-left Labor Party has dropped longtime leader Shimon Peres, who is now allied with Mr. Sharon.

Asked to predict how the raucous campaign will turn out, Mr. Erekat replied with a question of his own:

“Have you ever had a group of cats howling outside your window at midnight? And, could you tell just from the sound whether they were making love or fighting?”

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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