Japan and the US want their foreign ministers to meet counterparts from China, South Korea and Russia next week to discuss North Korea's nuclear programs, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso said yesterday.
The proposed meeting would take place on the sidelines of an APEC forum meeting in Hanoi, Aso told reporters after talks with US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns and US Undersecretary of State for Arms Control Security Robert Joseph.
North Korea, which conducted a nuclear test on Oct. 9, agreed last week to rejoin six-party talks on its nuclear programs after staying away for a year in protest at a US crackdown on its international finances.
"What is most important is that the five parties maintain close solidarity," Aso said.
Aso also said that the US and Japan had agreed that North Korea should not be recognized as a nuclear power and the resumption of six-party talks should not spell an end to sanctions imposed following the nuclear test.
"Reopening the six-way talks is not the objective. The six-party talks are a means and the objective is for them to give up nuclear weapons," Aso said.
Burns, speaking separately, said Japan and the US saw "eye to eye on the question of North Korea" and rejected a call by Pyongyang for Tokyo to stay away from the nuclear talks.
"These are six-party talks. The United States believes that one of our most important partners in this configuration is Japan," Burns told reporters. "Obviously, we all stick together and we are all partners in these negotiations."
North Korea said on Saturday that Japan should not bother to attend the six-party talks because Tokyo was refusing to recognize Pyongyang as a nuclear state and because Japan was no more than a "state" of the US.
Joseph said Tokyo and Washington had agreed that a UN Security Council resolution calling for sanctions on North Korea should continue to be implemented fully until Pyongyang met all of the resolution's demands, including the irreversible, verifiable and complete elimination of its nuclear program.
"We are of one mind that this resolution provides the way ahead," he said.
Meanwhile, South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun vowed yesterday to maintain two cross-border projects that have earned North Korea almost US$1 billion, despite the "intolerable provocation" of its nuclear test.
In a state of the nation address to parliament, he defended his "sunshine" policy of engagement with the North in spite of its nuclear test.
The South Korean-funded Kaesong industrial estate and Mount Kumgang tourist resort in the North are "symbols of peace and stability on the peninsula," he said in his speech read by Prime Minister Han Myeong-sook.
The ventures have earned the North almost US$1 billion since Kumgang opened in 1998.
Critics say the money can be creamed off for weapons programs. Senior US official Christopher Hill has stated that in his view, Kumgang "seems to be designed to give money to the North Korean authorities."
Roh said his government would take the projects in a direction compatible with "the spirit and objective" of UN sanctions imposed on Pyongyang after its test.
But he praised Kaesong as "directing the North to openness by passing on the South's experience in a market economy.
He added: "Under no circumstances can we cut the channel of dialogue with the North.