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Japan may help North Korea to scrap nuclear program

  Japan may provide help to North Korea in scrapping its nuclear program but it still refuses to give energy assistance because of a feud over abducted Japanese citizens, the top government spokesman said on Tuesday.


Japan has refused to contribute to the energy aid despite Washington’s decision last week to remove Pyongyang from a US terrorism blacklist after the two countries agreed on the verification measures for its nuclear program.

But Tokyo is under pressure from Seoul, which wants Japan to join South Korea, China, Russia and the United States in providing the energy aid promised under a six-way agreement to end Pyongyang’s nuclear programs. “Japan will not provide energy aid unless there is progress in the abductees issue, this has been declared before,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura told a news conference. “But in terms of the nuclear issue, Japan is contributing to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and it is possible that we will cooperate in moves taking place in such areas,” he added.

Concerns are growing that Japan will be left behind in the six-way talks if it sticks to its tough stance over the long-simmering issue of the kidnapped Japanese. North Korea abducted Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s. Five of them came back to Japan in 2002, but Tokyo wants information about eight more Pyongyang said it kidnapped and a further four Tokyo suspects were also victims.

The six parties agreed that up to 1 million tons of heavy fuel or energy aid equivalent to that was to be provided to North Korea once it had disabled its nuclear facility at Yongbyon and declared its nuclear programs. Instead of energy aid, Japan was considering providing money and technology worth about ¥16 billion ($157 million) to be used to scrap Pyongyang’s nuclear program, the Nikkei business daily reported on Tuesday without citing a source. This amount was roughly equivalent to what Japan had been asked to contribute for the energy aid, the Nikkei said.

A South Korean official close to the six-way talks told reporters on Tuesday that it might be necessary to seek an alternative if Japan refused to contribute energy aid. “We may have to consider the participation of the international community,” he said, without naming any specific countries.

Meanwhile, Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency said on Tuesday that it was necessary to discuss Japan’s right to take any further part in the six-way process. “Nothing says Japan needs to participate in this,” it said.

In 2006, North Korea conducted its first nuclear test using plutonium and is suspected of pursuing a uranium enrichment program that would provide a second path to making fissile material for atomic weapons. The IAEA, the UN nuclear watchdog, said last week that North Korea had resumed steps to disable its Yongbyon reactor, north of the capital, after a hiatus of several months. (Reuters)