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Japan: Talks possible without North Korea
Updated: 2005-05-13 15:48

Japan is considering five-party nuclear talks without North Korea if the country continues its boycott of negotiations, Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura said Friday.

Machimura told reporters that the aim would be to apply further diplomatic pressure on North Korea, which is believed to be extracting additional plutonium for use in nuclear weapons.

A ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the five countries — Japan, South Korea, Russia, the United States and China — had not yet agreed on whether to hold such a meeting.

"It's not that we have reached a consensus yet, but we are considering various ideas," the official paraphrased Machimura as telling reporters.

Pyongyang has withdrawn from talks that involved all six parties, and Tokyo and other participants have been frustrated so far in efforts to bring the North Koreans back to the negotiating table.

Also Friday, South Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Song Min-soon, his country's main envoy on the dispute, called for "strengthened diplomatic steps" to resolve the issue.

Song also said the United States and other major players would seek to enhance their diplomacy "in terms of both quality and quantity," but didn't elaborate what exact steps would be taken.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Thursday in Washington that success in efforts to achieve nuclear disarmament in North Korea can only come if the United States and its negotiating partners stick together.

"The key is to keep a united front," Rice said.

The main U.S. envoy on the North Korea nuclear issue was to arrive in Seoul later Friday. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill is to meet South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon and other officials.

The dispute erupted in 2002 after Washington said Pyongyang admitted running a secret nuclear program in violation of an agreement that gave it energy aid in exchange for renouncing nuclear development.

China has appealed to both North Korea and the United States to show flexibility and resume the disarmament sessions.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan said Thursday that Beijing doesn't want sanctions used to force the North back into the talks despite Pyongyang's announcement this week that it has removed 8,000 fuel rods from a nuclear reactor — a possible step toward extracting fuel for a bomb.

A U.S. State Department spokesman said this week that Washington hasn't ruled out taking the dispute to the Security Council — which could impose sanctions, a move Pyongyang says it would consider a "declaration of war."

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