North Korea vowed to ignore Japan at upcoming six-nation talks on its nuclear program, citing Tokyo’s refusal to send aid to the impoverished country as part of a disarmament agreement.
Saturday’s statement came as negotiators from six nations — the US, Russia, China, South Korea, Japan and North Korea — prepared to meet today in Beijing for talks that are expected to focus on how to verify Pyongyang’s accounting of its nuclear program.
“We will neither treat Japan as a party to the talks nor deal with it even if it impudently appears in the conference room,” the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) quoted an unidentified North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying.
North Korea has issued similar warnings in the past, but Tokyo has continued to attend the negotiations that began in 2003.
Officials at Japan’s Foreign Ministry could not be reached for comment on Saturday. In Seoul, South Korean nuclear envoy Kim Sook said that the talks should include all six nations.
He declined to elaborate.
North Korea — which conducted a nuclear test in 2006 — agreed last year to disable its nuclear reactor in exchange for 1 million tonnes of heavy fuel oil or equivalent aid, half of which has been delivered.
However, Japan has refused to donate its share, saying the North first must address the kidnappings of more than a dozen Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s.
In 2002, the North acknowledged kidnapping 13 Japanese and allowed five to return home, saying that the remaining eight had died. Japan has demanded proof of their deaths and an investigation into other suspected kidnappings.
The bilateral issue has slowed progress in the talks to denuclearize North Korea. In a deal struck in June, North Korea pledged to resolve the issue of Japanese abductions but no significant progress has been made and Pyongyang has sharpened the rhetoric against Tokyo in recent weeks.
The North’s main paper, the Rodong Sinmun, on Tuesday accused the “Japanese reactionaries” of deliberately trying to derail the nuclear talks, noting the “hideous crimes” committed in the past by the ex-colonial power.
Japan “has neither justification nor qualification to participate in the talks. On the contrary, it only lays a hurdle in the way of achieving the common goal,” KCNA quoted the North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying on Saturday.
US nuclear envoy Christopher Hill said he and North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye-gwan, spoke about “the need for [North Korea] to do more to meet Japanese concerns” when the two met in Singapore on Thursday and Friday.