July 12, 2005

U.S., Japan agree need progress in N.Korea talks

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan and the United States agreed on
Tuesday on the need for concrete progress at talks this month
on ending North Korea's nuclear arms program, while China sent
an envoy to Pyongyang to pave the way for a long-elusive deal.

Communist North Korea agreed over the weekend to return to
talks on its nuclear ambitions with the United States, host
China, Japan, South Korea and Russia. The meeting -- the first
since June 2004 -- will be held in the week of July 25.

"What we really need is a strategic decision on the part of
the North that they are indeed ready to give up nuclear weapons
because, without that, these talks cannot be successful,"
Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice told a joint news conference
with Japanese Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura in Tokyo.

Machimura told the same news conference: "We agreed that
concrete progress is necessary and we expect North Korea to
make a serious and constructive response."

Reviving the talks has become more urgent because of
concerns Pyongyang has expanded its nuclear capabilities to
eight or more weapons, up from one or two weapons when
President Bush came to office in 2001.

In a sign of the diplomatic push, Chinese State Councilor
Tang Jiaxuan, a special envoy of President Hu Jintao, headed
for North Korea earlier on Tuesday.

U.S. officials had said earlier that North Korea was
calling a nuclear-free Korean peninsula the "dying wish" of its
late leader, Kim Il-sung, and this might be a way for Pyongyang
to explain its decision to return to six-country talks.

But the officials said they had seen no concrete sign the
North would surrender its nuclear capability.

Still, after several years of seeking to isolate Pyongyang,
Rice said the Bush administration was "absolutely willing to
negotiate seriously ... we are prepared to roll up our

Experts say that for the talks to succeed, the five parties
other than North Korea must stay united. Officials from Japan,
South Korea and the United States will meet in Seoul on
Thursday to coordinate their approach.


Differences over what mix of carrots and sticks to use in
dealing with Pyongyang have plagued the six-party process.

South Korea said on Tuesday it would give 500,000 tons of
rice to the North to help battle a severe food shortage.

The Bush administration has long opposed giving incentives
before the North commits to abandoning its nuclear programs and
previously urged allies to withhold huge new aid infusions.

But Rice endorsed Seoul's aid pledge, saying "it responds
to the really miserable humanitarian situation of the North
Korean people (and) does not in any way undercut the
(six-party) talks."

She noted that Washington had itself recently promised
Pyongyang 50,000 tons of food in aid.

Seoul is planning a major incentive package, which media
reports describe as a huge injection of aid akin to the U.S.
Marshall Plan that rebuilt western Europe after World War II.

At the third round of talks, in June 2004, the United
States proposed fuel aid and security guarantees to North Korea
if it gave up its nuclear weapons programs.

While insisting Washington would offer no new incentives to
bring Pyongyang back to the table, Rice and other officials now
say the 2004 proposal is just a starting position and there was
room to alter its terms once serious negotiations start.

Japan, for its part, wants to raise the issue of the
abduction of its citizens by North Korea decades ago, a point
Machimura reiterated on Tuesday. Pyongyang says the matter is
closed and Beijing and Seoul want it to be dealt with

But Rice agreed that abductions -- as well as the North's
missile proliferation and human rights records -- must be dealt
before relations with the North can advance.

But, the nuclear weapons issue is "the one that is pressing
us in terms of the (six-party) talks," she said.

The North's KCNA news agency said the regime had armed
itself with nuclear weapons in response to a U.S. threat but
"we do not intend to possess nuclear weapons forever."

However, former Pentagon official Daniel Bluemthal said in
Washington that "Pyongyang's nuclear aspirations go to the core
of the regime's raison d'etre -- ensuring its own survival and
forcefully unifying the peninsula under its control" and hence
it was unlikely that they would be surrendered.

(Reporting by Linda Sieg, Teruaki Ueno and Elaine Lies in
Tokyo, Nick Macfie in Beijing and Jack Kim in Seoul)