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North Korea threatens missile tests

Staff and wires

North Korea says it blames the United States for first breaking the 1994 pact
North Korea says it blames the United States for first breaking the 1994 pact

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N. Korea nuclear facts
  • North Korea launched a medium-range "test" missile over Japan in 1998.
  • The 1994 Agreed Framework was signed by North Korea with the Clinton administration.
  • In return, an international consortium is building new nuclear reactors in North Korea.
  • TOKYO, Japan -- Japan's Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi says he is not taking seriously a threat from North Korea to resume missile tests if bilateral normalization talks fail.

    North Korea's Foreign Ministry hinted at a possible shift on a moratorium on test-firing missiles, blaming Japan for what was called a failure of last week's talks in Kuala Lumpur between the two nations.

    Both sides clashed and remained far apart on the key issues of Pyongyang's nuclear arms program and Tokyo's demand that children of Japanese abductees visiting Japan be allowed to join them.

    The official North Korean Central News Agency quoted a foreign ministry spokesman as saying that North Korean policymakers are, "of the view that the DPRK [North Korea] should reconsider the moratorium on the missile test-fire in case the talks on normalizing the relations between the DPRK and Japan get prolonged, without making any progress, as was the case with the recent talks."

    Koizumi won a pledge from North Korean leader Kim Jong Il to extend the moratorium, originally set to end next year, during a September summit. During the landmark meeting in Pyongyang, Kim also apologized for the abduction of Japanese citizens decades ago.

    Those concessions cleared the way for a resumption of talks between the East Asian nations aimed at establishing diplomatic ties.

    No mood

    Koizumi said on Tuesday that he wasn't taking the North Korean threat seriously, adding that Japan was in no mood to give way during the talks.

    "I do not believe North Korea will trample on the fundamental spirit of our Pyongyang agreement," Koizumi told reporters in Phnom Penh, where he met leaders at the annual Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit.

    "So we would not take seriously that sort of statement," he added. "We will speak firmly as we continue our negotiations."

    A positive outlook for last week's talks was complicated after North Korea's shock admission in October that it had been pursuing a nuclear weapons program in violation of a 1994 deal with Washington.

    In 1998, North Korea shocked Japan and other neighbors when it test fired a missile that flew over Japan's main island of Honshu. Pyongyang later said it would not carry out further tests until 2003 at the earliest.

    U.S., Japanese and South Korean leaders have agreed to demand that North Korea dismantle its nuclear program -- a stance that has received support from other Asian countries, including China, at the ASEAN summit.

    North Korea is keen for economic aid promised by Japan and urged Japanese negotiators to take up that issue during the two-days of talks in Kuala Lumpur.

    But Tokyo has made the nuclear arms and abductees its main priorities.

    Pyongyang has blamed that position for the breakdown in the talks, and also hit out at Japan for what it says was breaking a promise to send five surviving abductees back to North Korea as scheduled by October 28.

    "As far as the issue of the kidnapped Japanese is concerned, the Japanese side broke the first promise made to the DPRK, thus damaging the confidence, spoiling the hard-won atmosphere of cooperation and rendering the situation more complicated," the Foreign Ministry spokesman said.

    The issue of the Japanese abductees, taken from their homeland in the 1970s and 1980s to North Korea is an emotional one for Japan.

    In 1994, North Korea agreed to freeze an earlier nuclear program. In return, the United States promised to provide fuel oil and build two safer nuclear reactors.

    But the oil deliveries were frequently delayed, and work on the reactor site is years behind schedule. North Korea claims it was Washington that violated agreements, not Pyongyang.

    Reuters contributed to this report.

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