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U.S., Japan Worry About N. Korean Withdrawal From Talks

Sunday, February 20, 2005; Page A30

The United States and Japan expressed their "deep concern" yesterday over North Korea's refusal to negotiate over its nuclear arms programs.

In a joint statement issued in Washington after a Cabinet-level meeting, Japan and the United States urged North Korea to return unconditionally to the six-nation talks that also involve China, South Korea and Russia.

The two allies depend chiefly on China to coax its communist neighbor back to talks, but they risked antagonizing Beijing because Japan also aligned itself more closely with U.S. concerns over China's military buildup across from Taiwan.

China is particularly sensitive to what it perceives as outside interference in its dispute with Taiwan, an island it regards as a renegade province that the United States has vowed to defend if it is attacked. Japan and the United States used cautious language stating they shared a goal to "encourage the peaceful resolution of issues concerning the Taiwan Strait through dialogue."

But they were blunt about their concerns after North Korea's statement last week that it had nuclear weapons to deter a hostile United States and that it was withdrawing from six-party negotiations.

"The Secretary of State and the Japanese Foreign Minister made clear their deep concern over the [North Korean] statement," the two nations said in a special communique issued yesterday in addition to a general statement about the Japanese-U.S. alliance.

Japan's Kyodo news service reported that Japan and the United States also agreed yesterday to reinforce their bilateral security alliance under a new set of "common security objectives" to deal with "uncertainty" in the Asia-Pacific amid China's growing military power and tensions over Taiwan.

But the mention of the cross-strait issue, according to Kyodo, could be seen as a low-key effort by Japan to move toward joining the U.S. policy of defending Taiwan if attacked.

Post correspondent Anthony Faiola in Tokyo contributed to this report.

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