Wed, Jul 12, 2006 - Page 1 News List

No consensus reached on dealing with Pyongyang


South Korea and Japan bickered over the best way to deal with the North Korean missile tests, while the US' top nuclear envoy yesterday made a last-minute trip back to China, saying talks to resolve the crisis have reached a crucial point.

The North dismissed the hubbub over the missiles as Washington's latest ploy for "world supremacy" and said the US was the biggest threat to world peace. The reclusive communist nation was likely delighted with the discord and divisions among the countries trying to pacify Pyongyang.

North Korea ignited the furor a week ago by test-firing seven missiles, including a long-range Taepodong-2 -- potentially capable of hitting the US. The weapons, which landed in the waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan, created a major new challenge for the six countries trying to defuse the North's nuclear threat.

So far, the nations have struggled to find a consensus on how to handle the crisis.

US envoy Christopher Hill visited China, South Korea and Japan in the past week.

He left Tokyo yesterday for an unscheduled trip back to Beijing, saying the Chinese had the most influence over Pyongyang and would be key to reigning in the North Koreans.

"Obviously, we're in a rather crucial period," Hill told reporters at the Beijing airport. "The Chinese government has an important diplomatic mission going on and so we want to be in close consultation."

Washington wants North Korea to resume a moratorium on ballistic missile launches, return to stalled six-party talks over its nuclear program and implement a joint statement reached at the talks last September.

North Korea's state news agency KCNA yesterday accused the US of "threatening other countries with massive nuclear and missile forces."

Japan shares the US concerns and has played a lead role in seeking UN sanctions against North Korea. The Japanese have agreed to give diplomacy more time, but a high-ranking official suggested Tokyo consider a pre-emptive strike against the North's missile bases.

The Japanese official -- Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe -- added that Japan would first need to consider whether such an attack would violate its pacifist constitution, adopted after its defeat in World War II.

Abe's comments angered South Korea, which has favored using diplomacy, negotiation and other forms of engagement to deal with the North.

Jung Tae-ho, a spokesman at the South Korean president's office, yesterday accused Tokyo of "arrogance and outrageous rhetoric that further intensifies the crisis on the Korean Peninsula with dangerous and provocative rhetoric such as `pre-emptive strike.'"

The spokesman also accused the Japanese of using the missile tests as "a pretext for becoming a military power."

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu (姜瑜) said the Japanese proposal was "an overreaction."

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