- The Washington Times - Monday, July 10, 2006

SEOUL — South Korea distanced itself yesterday from Japanese-led U.N. moves to slap punitive sanctions on North Korea over a series of missile launches last week, with Seoul insisting that Cabinet-level talks go ahead tomorrow.

“For the time being, we do not have clear grounds or reasoning that these sanctions will work for preventing any missile proliferation, or any factors that destabilize the regional stability,” Song Min-soon, the presidential national security adviser, told Reuters news agency.

Separately, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il said his country would not budge in negotiations with the United States, adding that Pyongyang was ready to meet any attack with a strong blow of its own, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported.

The broadcast did not say when Mr. Kim made the comments.

After the reclusive state defied world opinion and launched seven missiles last week, Japan formally introduced a U.N. resolution, co-sponsored by the United States, Britain and France, to impose sanctions against its missile program.

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso said Tokyo would not back down on its sanctions demand. “For us, only a binding resolution has any meaning,” he told NHK television yesterday.

But in the face of strong opposition from veto-wielding U.N. Security Council members China and Russia, the top U.S. envoy for North Korea said he backed Beijing’s proposal for talks to re-engage the communist state.

“My mission here is not to get sanctions. My mission here is to make sure that we can all speak with one voice to deal with this real, provocative action by the North Koreans,” said Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, the top U.S. envoy to missile talks.

Mr. Hill rushed to Asia for talks after Tuesday’s missile launches.

“What [North Korea] needs to do is get back to the talks and implement what it has already agreed to do, which is to get out of this dirty nuclear business that it is in and get on with the task of modernizing their country,” Mr. Hill said yesterday.

After an initial stop in Beijing, Mr. Hill arrived in Tokyo from Seoul yesterday evening and said he saw no splintering among the parties.

“All countries are showing resolve in the ways that they can,” he told reporters at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport. He said Japan was looking at bilateral sanctions involving some of its direct contacts with North Korea, which the U.S. does not have.

Mr. Hill earlier told a small group of reporters in Seoul the United States was keen to pursue diplomacy with North Korea but would have no qualms in seeing Pyongyang further isolated.

“If they want to negotiate, we are prepared to do so within the six-party process,” he said, referring to stalled talks among the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States aimed at coaxing Pyongyang to scrap its nuclear weapons programs.

“If North Korea wants to isolate itself, we will do our best to oblige them,” he added.

The six-nation talks have been on ice since late last year. The North boycotted the forum in a protest over a U.S. financial crackdown on a North Korean operation to counterfeit $100 bills and launder them through Asian banks.

China has proposed convening an informal six-way meeting in Shenyang, a northeastern city near the Korean border, to seek a way out of the impasse. Mr. Hill has voiced U.S. support for the move.

Mr. Hill repeated Washington’s position that, within the framework of the six-party talks, there could be a bilateral meeting between the United States and North Korea.

President Bush has repeatedly ruled out sitting down at the table with North Koreans outside that forum, and insists the international community must come up with a unified response to North Korea’s latest missile tests.

Japan’s revised draft, co-sponsored by the United States, Britain and France, says no nation can procure missiles or missile-related “items, materials goods and technology” from North Korea, or transfer financial resources to the isolated communist country’s dangerous weapons programs.

Mr. Song said the missile test was unacceptable but all countries in the region, including the United States and South Korea, agreed on using diplomacy.

Cabinet-level talks with the North scheduled tomorrow would mark the highest-level contact since the test.

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