Inter-Korean talks stalled as DPRK hits out at US, Japan
* Pyongyang demands a legally binding non-aggression pact with US
* Bush to discuss Iraq, currency dispute, in Japan
PYONGYANG: Cabinet-level talks between North and South Korea stalled Thursday over the yearlong nuclear crisis as Pyongyang lashed out at the United States and Japan.
Delegates failed to show for a second day of talks in the North Korean capital after no progress was registered in Wednesday’s opening session, conducted in a “heavy-hearted atmosphere,” according to the South Koreans.
A closed-door informal meeting of the leaders of the two delegations failed iron-out difference over a press statement scheduled for release when the talks end on Friday. “North Korea has not yet to respond to South Korea’s demand that it should attend a new round of six-way talks at an early date and restrain itself from provocative activities or statements,” a South Korean delegate was quoted as saying in a pool report from Pyongyang.
Official media reports indicated that North Korea was sticking to a hard-line bargaining position, saying it was building up its nuclear weapons arsenal and insisting that key regional player Japan be excluded from any future nuclear crisis negotiations.
South Korea wants to address the nuclear issue in the final press statement, while North Korea wants to focus on inter-Korean cooperation projects, according to sources in Seoul.
“We are neither optimistic nor pessimistic,” an unidentified South Korean delegate was quoted as saying by media pool reports from Pyongyang.
“The real debate has barely started,” said Kim Ryong-Song, head of the North Korean delegation.
On Thursday, the mouthpiece of North Korea’s ruling Workers Party said the country would boost its nuclear deterrent unless Washington changed its “hostile” policy towards the Stalinist state.
North Korea is demanding a legally binding non-aggression pact from the United States as a first step before responding to Washington’s demand for a complete and verifiable dismantling of its nuclear weapons drive.
Pyongyang claims the United States is planning to attack despite frequent denials from US officials including President George W. Bush.
North Korea also reiterated its opposition to Japanese participation in any further multilateral talks on the nuclear crisis.
“Japan is a country of one hundred harms and no single good,” Rodong Sinmun said in a separate commentary. “Japan has lost its qualifications as a dialogue partner.”
Meanwhile, US President George W. Bush heads to Japan on Thursday, thankful for Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi pledge to help rebuild Iraq but ready to challenge him on economic policies that critics say cost US jobs.
Bush has promised to rebuke Koizumi over his government’s policy of intervening on currency markets to weaken the yen — which makes US imports comparatively more expensive..
“Markets ought to be determining respective to currencies,” the president said in a group interview this week with Asian and Australian reporters. “There are some trade imbalances that I will be discussing.”
The lightning visit, which White House national security adviser Condoleezza Rice has dubbed a mere “layover,” opens a whirlwind six-nation trip to Asia and Australia that she said aims to steel the region’s resolve to battle terrorism and seek help with post-war Iraq.
On Iraq, Bush will make no specific requests for troops or cash. However he “will, undoubtedly, remind people that we have a donors conference coming up and that we would hope people would be generous,” Rice said.
Bush warmly praised Japan Wednesday as an example for other nations after Tokyo pledged 1.5 billion dollars to Iraq reconstruction ahead of a donor’s conference in Madrid next week.
“I applaud this bold step, which will help mobilize international support for efforts to build a stable, peaceful, and democratic Iraq,” Bush said in a statement.
Japanese media have reported Japanese aid would reach five billion dollars, mostly in loans, from 2005 to 2007.
Japan has sent a fact-finding mission to Iraq to see what Japanese troops can do and that officials have been openly discussing the timing of a possible dispatch.
Any promise to send troops, broadly unpopular with the Japanese public, was likely to be conveyed to Bush through diplomatic channels but with the actual dispatch delayed until after Japan’s lower house election, according to Shigenori Okazaki, political analyst at UBS Warburg. —AFP