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Japan has 'extremely strong concerns' over NKorean nuclear step

Agence France-Presse | May 12, 2005

Japan on Thursday condemned North Korea for removing nuclear fuel rods in a key step to build more atomic bombs, saying it had "extremely strong concerns" over Pyongyang's aims.

"Having operated the reactor is a big problem itself as it is clear that the move is not for nuclear power generation but to get plutonium," Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda told reporters.

Japan "firmly urges them to abandon it," said Hosoda, referring to nuclear development.

"As they have indicated last year and this year that they have finished arming themselves with nuclear weapons, we have extremely strong concerns," said Hosoda, the government spokesman.

Hosoda called on Pyongyang to return to six-party talks involving China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States to solve the nuclear stand-off.

Japan has particular concerns about North Korea, which fired a missile over the country into the Pacific Ocean in 1998. Pyongyang is embroiled in a separate row with Tokyo over its past kidnappings of Japanese nationals, with some lawmakers calling for sanctions to punish the isolated state.

Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Shoichi Nakagawa was quoted as saying the latest nuclear move by North Korea showed it to be an "outrageous country."

"Many Japanese people and Diet (parliament) members support sanctions and we have to respect their stance," Nakagawa said, according to Kyodo News.

North Korea said Wednesday that it had completed unloading 8,000 spent fuel rods from the nuclear reactor, a step that would allow it to reprocess enough plutonium for about half a dozen bombs.

Takemasa Moriya, administrative vice minister at Japan's Defense Agency, voiced concerns Thursday, saying it was likely that Pyongyang was edging closer to conducting a nuclear test.

"We cannot rule out the possibility that (North Korea's) nuclear development plan is really going forward," Moriya told a news conference.

US Ambassador to Japan Thomas Schieffer in a meeting with a Japanese political leader Wednesday said North Korea had taken preparatory steps to a nuclear test.

But Hosoda was cautious about immediately bringing North Korea to the UN Security Council for sanctions over the nuclear issue -- a move suggested by the United States and which North Korea said would be an act of war.

"It would be good to discuss it at a global level but it would be most effective to have talks where neighboring countries get together and the country directly concerned is involved," Hosoda said.

The five-megawatt reactor at Yongbyon, north of the capital Pyongyang, was frozen under a 1994 deal with the United States which collapsed in 2002 following US allegations that Pyongyang was still pursuing nuclear weapons.

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