EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 15, 2013

North Korea takes hard line while US talks up diplomacy


The Eagle-Tribune

---- — TOKYO (AP) — The United States and Japan opened the door yesterday to new nuclear talks with North Korea if the saber-rattling country lowered tensions and honored past agreements, even as it rejected South Korea’s latest offer of dialogue as a “crafty trick.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters in Tokyo that North Korea would find “ready partners” in the United States if it began abandoning its nuclear program.

Japan’s foreign minister, Fumio Kishida, also demanded a resolution to a dispute concerning Japanese citizens abducted decades ago by North Korean officials.

The diplomats seemed to point the way for a possible revival of the six-nation talks that have been suspended for four years.

Kerry’s message of openness to diplomacy was clear, however unlikely the chances appeared that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s government would meet the American’s conditions.

“I’m not going to be so stuck in the mud that an opportunity to actually get something done is flagrantly wasted because of a kind of predetermined stubbornness,” he told U.S.-based journalists.

Tensions have run high on the Korean Peninsula for months, with North Korea testing a nuclear device and its intercontinental ballistic missile technology.

The reclusive communist state hasn’t stopped there. It has issued almost daily threats that have included possible nuclear strikes against the United States. Analysts and foreign officials say that is still beyond the North Koreans’ capability.

While many threats have been dismissed as bluster, U.S. and South Korean say they believe the North in the coming days may test a mid-range missile designed to reach as far as Guam, the U.S. territory in the Pacific where the Pentagon is deploying a land-based missile-defense system.

Japan is the last stop on a 10-day trip overseas for Kerry, who visited Seoul and Beijing as well in recent days.

In South Korea, he strongly warned North Korea not to launch a missile and he reaffirmed U.S. defense of its allies in the region. In China, he secured a public pledge from Beijing, the lone government with significant influence over North Korea, to rid the North of nuclear weapons.

Before flying back to the United States, Kerry told students at the Tokyo Institute of Technology that the important thing was staying united on North Korea. He then met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

So far, Republican lawmakers in the U.S. have largely backed the Obama administration’s efforts on North Korea.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., told CBS’ “Face the Nation” that he was encouraged by Kerry’s China visit and that he hoped “we can get the Chinese to care more about this issue.

At a news conference in Tokyo, Kerry stressed that gaining China’s commitment to a denuclearized North Korea was no small matter given its historically strong military and economic ties to North Korea.

But he refused to say what the Chinese were offering to do concretely to pressure the North into abiding by some of the conditions it agreed to in a 2005 deal that required it to abandon its nuclear program.

“They have to take some actions,” Kerry said of North Korea. “How many or how much? I’d have to talk to folks back in Washington about that. But if the Chinese came to us and said, ‘Look, here’s what we have cooking,’ I’m not going to tell you I’m shutting the door today to something that’s logical and might have a chance of success.”

In remarks to U.S. journalists, Kerry said that under the right circumstances, he even would consider making a grand overture to North Korea’s leader, such as an offer of direct talks with the U.S.

“We’re prepared to reach out,” he said.