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Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2008

N. Korea stays on list for now, Rice tells Komura

Staff writer

Washington has no immediate plan to remove North Korea from its list of terrorism-sponsoring nations, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice assured Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura over the phone Monday.

Speaking to reporters in Tokyo after talks with Rice, Komura said the U.S. decision not to remove North Korea from its blacklist is a "matter of course."

"There hasn't been any agreement on a process to verify let alone any verification" that confirms North Korea's denuclearization, Komura said, adding the prospects of an immediate delisting were slim to begin with.

"I felt that the stage wasn't set" to lift sanctions against North Korea, he said during a news conference.

Following Pyongyang's declaration in June on its nuclear activities, President George W. Bush notified Congress on June 26 of his desire to remove North Korea from the terrorism blacklist.

Because the process takes at least 45 days under U.S. law, North Korea became eligible Monday for delisting and to have sanctions against it lifted. But Pyongyang and Washington have so far not seen eye to eye on how to verify the declaration and proceed with the North's denuclearization.

The U.S. has urged Pyongyang to agree to a protocol that includes complete access to its nuclear facilities and operational records from its nuclear facilities.

Japan has watched the process closely because removing North Korea from the blacklist may influence its efforts to get Pyongyang to resolve its abductions of Japanese nationals decades ago.

Komura said during the news conference that Washington's judgment will have little effect on the two days of working-level talks between Japan and North Korea that began Monday in Shenyang, China.

Akitaka Saiki, director general of the Foreign Ministry's Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, and Song Il Ho, North Korea's ambassador for normalization talks with Japan, are discussing the abduction issue in exchange for Japan's partial lifting of economic sanctions against the hermit state.

Komura said the Japanese delegation had not reported any progress as of noon Monday but stressed that Pyongyang must pledge to a process that would satisfy Japan and its search for the abductees.

The outcome of the talks will be revealed Wednesday.

Komura and Rice also agreed to keep close tabs on the fighting between Russia and Georgia over the province of South Ossetia. Japan has urged both countries to halt the violence, Komura said.

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The Japan Times

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