- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 5, 2006

TOKYO — U.S. Undersecretaries of State R. Nicholas Burns and Robert Joseph were in Tokyo today coordinating with Japanese and South Korean officials before the resumption of long-delayed negotiations on North Korea’s nuclear program.

South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon, who also is in Tokyo, said the three countries worked closely together in the past and would continue to do so at the six-nation talks expected later this year, according to a Japanese Foreign Ministry official.

Mr. Ban, who takes over as U.N. secretary-general in January, was to meet Prime Minister Shinzo Abe today for further talks. The two Americans were to meet with Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso and other Japanese officials before traveling to South Korea later today, according to Japan’s Foreign Ministry.

South Korea’s Yonhap news agency, citing unidentified officials, reported that the three countries will hold a meeting of their chief nuclear negotiators in Washington as early as next weekend to discuss strategies to move the nuclear talks ahead.

The North agreed last week to return to the negotiations — which also include China and Russia — in the first easing of tensions after its Oct. 9 nuclear test. The talks have been stalled for a year over financial restrictions placed on the North by the United States for suspected counterfeiting and money laundering.

Mr. Aso said, however, that North Korea’s return to the talks “is not a goal in itself,” according to a ministry official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Mr. Aso said North Korea also must comply with the U.N. Security Council resolution passed after its nuclear test and abandon all atomic weapon development.

On Saturday, Pyongyang lashed out at Tokyo, saying Japan did not need to participate in the talks “because it is no more than a state of the U.S. and it is enough for Tokyo just to be informed of the results of the talks by Washington.”

Japan is a common target of criticism from the North, stemming from Tokyo’s imperial occupation of the Korean Peninsula in the early 20th century. Pyongyang has called before for Japan to be excluded from the nuclear talks.

North Korea said it would return to the talks to seek an end to a U.S.-led campaign blocking Pyongyang’s access to international banks because of purported illegal activities such as counterfeiting and money laundering. Washington had said it will discuss the financial restrictions only in the context of the six-nation talks.

The North often refers to its nuclear program as a self-defensive measure against the threat of a U.S. attack. Washington has insisted repeatedly that it has no intention to attack.

The regime’s No. 2 leader, Kim Yong-nam, said last week that any progress at the revived talks on the communist nation’s nuclear program will depend on the United States’ “attitude,” an indication that a breakthrough could be difficult.

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