Sunday, November 16, 2003

TOKYO — The United States will not conclude an agreement with North Korea on its nuclear-arms program without verification, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said yesterday.

Mr. Rumsfeld, appearing at a news conference with Japan Defense Agency Director Shigeru Ishiba, also said that any U.S. security guarantees provided to Pyongyang would not be made at Tokyo’s expense.

Meanwhile, Mr. Ishiba sent a different signal than other senior Japanese officials on the question of Japan’s plans for sending troops to Iraq.

The hawkish Japanese defense chief said Tokyo is watching the situation in Iraq closely and favors the dispatch of troops in the future.

“We would like to do it as soon as possible,” Mr. Ishiba said, speaking through an interpreter.

Asked about reports that North Korea is prepared to dismantle its nuclear program in exchange for a U.S. promise not to attack Pyongyang, Mr. Ishiba said the United States is studying the security-guarantee issue.

However, he noted that any security promises to North Korea would not affect the strong U.S.-Japan security ties.

“There is not a relationship between the two, between the assurance or guarantee given to North Korea,” Mr. Ishiba said.

“And if there is an unjust attack made on Japan, the United States I’m sure has no change in its intention to work together with Japan to defend our nation, and I believe myself and the secretary are in total agreement,” he said.

Mr. Rumsfeld said he is in “total agreement” with Mr. Ishiba on the U.S. commitment to defend Japan.

On the issue of an agreement with Pyongyang, Mr. Rumsfeld said, “The United States has not gotten to that point.”

“I can say this: The United States government is not going to make any arrangements with any other country — that one or others — that would in any way undermine our security agreement with Japan,” Mr. Rumsfeld said.

Some political leaders in Japan have said U.S. security guarantees made to the regime in North Korea as part of a future agreement aimed at dismantling Pyongyang’s nuclear program could result in Japan’s becoming more vulnerable.

In an interview with the Japanese daily newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun, Mr. Rumsfeld said he supports the Bush administration’s diplomatic approach to the North Korean nuclear issue.

“The only really effective way of dealing with North Korea, it seems to me, is to have the nations of this region engage in six-party talks,” he said.

The region has to be worried about North Korea because of transfers abroad of weapons of mass-destruction goods and technologies and ballistic-missile technology, Mr. Rumsfeld said.

“That is a problem that’s not restricted to this region, and to the extent they follow through, and do the kinds of things with nuclear material that they have been doing with ballistic-missile technology, it will change the world,” he said.

North Korean diplomats told The Washington Times that Pyongyang is ready to accept U.S. security guarantees in exchange for dismantling its nuclear program. Six-nation talks — encompassing the United States, Japan, Russia, China, and North and South Korea — on Pyongyang’s nuclear-arms program are set to resume in the coming weeks.

Mr. Rumsfeld held an hourlong meeting with Mr. Ishiba yesterday and discussed Japan’s contribution to the rebuilding of Iraq and other issues, including U.S. plans to restructure its forces around the world.

The secretary did not say anything about Japan’s recent decision to delay sending troops to southern Iraq in the wake of the terrorist bombing in Nasiriyah that killed 33 persons, mostly Italian security forces.

“We are confident that our friends here will make decisions that are appropriate to them,” he said about the troop-deployment delay.

Mr. Ishiba, at the news conference, said the United Nations must be used “fully” in stabilizing postwar Iraq.

The call for greater U.N. involvement appeared to be a Japanese government theme, as it was mentioned by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi during a meeting Thursday with Mr. Rumsfeld.

Japan was to send a contingent of noncombat troops to Iraq before the end of the year, but reversed the decision after the recent terrorist bombings in Iraq.

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