Japan and South Korea said Saturday that Pyongyang should take concrete steps to show its commitment to scrapping its nuclear arsenal before six-party disarmament talks can resume.
At a meeting in Seoul, Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara and his counterpart Kim Sung-Hwan agreed the North must engage in productive talks with the South before other discussions among the six parties can go ahead.
“We’ve reaffirmed that North Korea should show its seriousness of purpose in denuclearization by taking concrete steps so as to create an atmosphere conducive to resume the six-party talks,” Kim said at a news conference afterwards.
The North quit six-party nuclear disarmament talks in April 2009 and conducted its second atomic weapons test a month later in protest against what it perceives as a hostile US policy.
The forum, chaired by the North’s major ally China, also includes the two Koreas, the United States, Japan and Russia.
Maehara said he had agreed with Kim that talks between the two Koreas should come first before Japan could engage in direct bilateral talks with North Korea.
“North Korea needs to take concrete steps to show its willingness to carry out its promise” to dismantle nuclear programmes in return for aid and diplomatic concessions, Maehara said at the news conference.
Maehara and Kim’s meeting came a day after US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, ending an Asian tour in Seoul, also urged Pyongyang to show good faith and end its “dangerous provocations”.
The North shelled a border island in late November, killing four South Koreans including two civilians, sending regional tensions soaring.
Pyongyang also raised regional security fears last November by revealing an apparently operational uranium enrichment plant to visiting US experts, which US and other officials fear could be used to produce weapons-grade uranium to augment the country’s existing plutonium stockpile.
North Korea has test-fired three intercontinental ballistic missiles, most recently in April 2009 when one flew over Japan and landed in the Pacific.
Maehara also urged action on the issue of abductions. North Korea admitted in 2002 that it snatched Japanese civilians off beaches and overseas trips in the 1970s and 1980s to train its spies in Japanese language and culture.
The North returned five victims and declared the case closed, but Japan insists that at least seven more are alive.
Maehara was travelling to South Korea for the first time since taking office last September.
His day-long trip came as the two neighbours seek closer diplomatic and military ties against threats posed by North Korea to regional security.