SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea vowed Saturday to exclude Japan from talks aimed at ending the North’s nuclear programs, in apparent retaliation for Tokyo’s refusal to contribute to an economic aid package for the communist regime.
The comments carried by the country’s official Korean Central News Agency came as negotiators prepared to meet Monday in Beijing. The six-nation talks have stalled over how to verify North Korea’s accounting of its nuclear programs.
“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 agency quoted an unidentified North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying.
North Korea has issued similar warnings to Japan in the past, but Tokyo has continued to attend the negotiations.
Officials at Japan’s Foreign Ministry could not be reached for comment Saturday. Top South Korean nuclear envoy Kim Sook told The Associated Press that the talks should include all six nations. He declined to elaborate.
North Korea agreed last year to disable its nuclear reactor in exchange for aid. But Japan has refused to join four other countries — China, Russia, South Korea and the United States — in providing the aid until North Korea addresses the kidnapping of more than a dozen Japanese in the 1970s and ‘80s.
U.S. nuclear envoy Christopher Hill has said he expects the upcoming talks to be difficult and indicated the meetings will focus on working out a detailed plan for verifying the North’s nuclear programs.
“We need a situation where when we begin the verification there are no surprises,” Hill told reporters after arriving in Seoul on Saturday for talks with his counterpart, Kim Sook.
Hill said he would speak with Kim later in the day about providing fuel aid to the North. He leaves Sunday for Beijing, where he plans to hold a series of meetings with envoys from South Korea, China, Japan and Russia.
Though it agreed to disarm, North Korea has denied that it ever said it would allow inspectors to take samples from its nuclear complex — a key process to verify its accounting of past nuclear activities.
Hill held two days of talks with North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan in Singapore earlier this week but appeared to have failed to make any significant progress on the verification issue.
In 2002, North Korea acknowledged having kidnapped 13 Japanese citizens and allowed five to return home, saying the remaining eight had died. Japan, however, has demanded proof of the deaths and a probe into additional suspected kidnapping cases — an emotional issue that has slowed progress in the nuclear talks.
Japan and North Korea struck a breakthrough deal in June under which North Korea pledged to finally resolve the abductions of Japanese citizens. But no major progress has been made since then.
“We did have a discussion about the need for (North Korea) to do more to meet Japanese concerns, especially on the abduction matter,” Hill said.
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.
Other countries beside the six parties have expressed willingness to give economic aid to North Korea in place of Japan, the official said, without elaborating.