Fri, Nov 03, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Tokyo not considering bilateral talks with North: Aso

SIX, NOT TWO The foreign minister said that Japan was not thinking of resuming direct talks with the North, but rather six-nation talks on Pyongyang's nuclear program

AP , TOKYO

Japan is not considering holding direct bilateral talks with North Korea, a news report quoted Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso as saying yesterday.

The last meeting between Japanese and North Korean leaders was in May 2004, but the two sides have met for working-level talks since then, the last time in February of this year.

"Right now we are not thinking about direct talks between Japan and North Korea,' Kyodo News agen-cy quoted Aso as telling reporters.

The Yomiuri newspaper reported early yesterday that the US and Japan planned to take a hard line on North Korea's nuclear programs in upcoming six-nation talks.

The report, based on unidentified government sources, said the two allies would demand that the North immediately halt its nuclear tests and announce a schedule for disarming.

They are also expected to press Pyongyang to clarify a means of verification so outsiders can see whether the isolated, insular country is following through with disarmament promises.

The unified front comes after North Korea said this week it would return to nuclear disarmament talks in an effort to access its frozen overseas bank accounts, a vital source of hard currency for the impoverished and isolated communist nation.

The nuclear talks -- which include China, Japan, Russia, the US and the two Koreas -- reached an agreement in September last year where Pyongyang pledged to abandon its nuclear program in exchange for aid and security guarantees, but there was little progress toward implementing the accord. Tensions only worsened last month when North Korea tested its first nuclear explosion, drawing widespread international condemnation and UN sanctions.

No dates have yet been set for a new round of nuclear talks, but Tokyo and Washington are expected to press North Korea for a stronger commitment "because North Korea has made the situation more serious compared with that surrounding previous talks," Yomiuri cited an unidentified Foreign Ministry official as saying, referring to the Oct. 9 blast.

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