N. Korea threatens to resume missile tests

Wednesday, November 6, 2002

TOKYO -- North Korea threatened Tuesday to resume missile test-launches unless Tokyo stops making the North's nuclear weapons program and the fate of five Japanese abductees central to normalizing relations.

Quoting a Foreign Ministry official, the North's official Korea Central News Agency said Japan's stance on the abductees and its demands that the North stop developing nuclear weapons "is now creating very serious issues as it is illogical."

Officials from the two countries met in Malaysia on Oct. 29-30 for their first round of normalization talks in two years. The talks followed an unprecedented summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and Japan's Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on Sept. 17.

But the talks soon bogged down over Tokyo's demands that the North end its nuclear program and allow five people who were abducted by North Korea in 1978 to train spies be allowed to go back to Japan permanently. The date for the next round of talks has not been set.

The five abductees are in Japan in their first homecoming, allowed by Pyongyang but on the expectation it would last only a week or two. Tokyo now says it has no plans to return them to the North. The five are the only known survivors of 13 such kidnappings Kim confessed his country carried out in the 1970s and '80s.

The North Korean Foreign Ministry official, who was not identified, said that if Japan is willing to break its promise on the abductees, the North is not obliged to stick to the test-launch moratorium.

"If any party ceases to implement its commitment, it is impossible for the other party to continue to fulfill its commitment," the official said.

Self-imposed moratorium

Since 1999, the North Koreans have been under a self-imposed moratorium on long-range missile test flights, which are usually a prerequisite for deploying a usable weapon. While earthbound missile tests have continued, North Korean leaders have repeatedly reaffirmed the flight moratorium in public statements.

At the summit with Koizumi, Kim said he would extend the moratorium until after 2003. But the North had said the moratorium was contingent on progress in talks with the United States.

Japan is particularly concerned by North Korea's development of long-range missiles because the North is believed to have missiles that could strike virtually any point in this country, and as far away as Alaska or Guam.

Tokyo said it would not change its approach.

"Normalization of relations depends on North Korea's sincere achievement of its promises in the Pyongyang declaration...I would not accept any remarks that counter these conditions," Koizumi said Tuesday on the sidelines of a summit with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Phnom Penh.

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