- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 7, 2006

TOKYO - Japan and the United States hope to convene North Korea’s five interlocutors in the six-party talks for preliminary discussions during an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum this month in Vietnam, Japan’s foreign minister said yesterday.

Taro Aso said the idea emerged during a meeting yesterday with Nicholas Burns, the U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs. Japan, the United States, South Korea, China and Russia all will be represented at the Nov. 18-19 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Hanoi, but North Korea is not a member of the 21-nation organization.

“Japan and the U.S. will propose the five-way talks” in Vietnam, Mr. Aso said after the meeting with Mr. Burns. “We don’t know yet if the others will go along with the proposal.”

Mr. Burns is on a tour of the region to coordinate policy on North Korea, which last week announced that it would return to six-party nuclear talks that have been stalled for a year. It was not clear when those negotiations would resume.

Mr. Burns rejected a North Korean call over the weekend for Japan to be excluded from the six-way talks because of its demand, reiterated yesterday, that Pyongyang not attend the talks as a declared nuclear power.

“These are six-party talks and the United States believes that one of our most important partners in that configuration is Japan,” Mr. Burns said. “Obviously, we all stick together and we all participate in these negotiations.”

North Korea on Oct. 9 conducted an underground nuclear test, triggering U.N. Security Council sanctions and raising concerns that the hard-line regime was on its way to developing a nuclear weapon that could threaten its neighbors.

Both Japan and the United States demanded progress in the six-way talks on their demands that North Korea give up its quest for a nuclear weapon and allow outside verification that it is complying with such a pledge.

Japanese officials said Tokyo welcomed North Korea’s announcement that it would return to talks, but that the negotiations were not an end in themselves.

“Carrying out the six-party talks is not the objective,” Mr. Aso said. “The six-party talks is a means and the objective is the abandonment of nuclear weapons.”

Mr. Aso also said Japan and the United States would not accept North Korea as a nuclear state. Japanese officials have been arguing against allowing North Korea back to the negotiating table as an atomic power.

Meanwhile, the U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, Robert Joseph, also visiting Tokyo, said Japan and the United States agreed on the need to enforce sanctions until North Korea revokes its nuclear weapons program.

“We are in agreement that the resolution must be fully and effectively implemented until North Korea meets all of the demands of the Security Council,” Mr. Joseph said.

Also in Tokyo was South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon. Mr. Ban, the next U.N. secretary-general, met with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe after talks with Mr. Aso the previous day.

Mr. Ban and Mr. Abe agreed for the need to pressure Pyongyang with sanctions while leaving room for negotiations, the Foreign Ministry said.

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