Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said today the United States is committed to ridding North Korea of nuclear weapons and warned against any missile launch by Pyongyang. At the formal start of her Asia tour in Japan, Mrs Clinton renewed a US offer for normal ties and a peace treaty with North Korea if it verifiably and completely eliminates its nuclear weapons programme. "Let me underscore the commitment the United States has to the denuclearisation of North Korea and to the prevention of further proliferation," she told a news conference.
"This is a matter of great concern. We discussed it at great length today," she said after talks with the Japanese foreign minister Hirofumi Nakasone. Under a landmark deal in 2007 with the US, China, South Korea, Japan and Russia, North Korea agreed to end its weapons-grade nuclear programme in exchange for energy aid. But progress in the six-party talks stalled late last year when North Korea, which tested an atom bomb in 2006, baulked at demands for inspections and other steps to verify disarmament.
"If North Korea abides by the obligations it has already entered into and verifiably and completely eliminates its nuclear programme, then there will be a reciprocal response," she said. As laid out in the six-nation deal, the US would offer "a chance to normalise relations", Mrs Clinton said, as well as a full peace treaty with the North, which has often said it needs nuclear weapons to deter a US attack.
The 1950-1953 Korean conflict ended only with an armistice. Touching on one of the most emotive issues for Japan, Mrs Clinton said she would press Pyongyang to account for the fate of Japanese citizens kidnapped to train North Korean spies in language skills, adding she would meet with their families later today. Japan has refused to provide aid to North Korea under the denuclearisation deal until it provides answers about the abductions. It expressed concern at Washington's decision last October to remove Pyongyang from a terrorism blacklist before the kidnap issue is resolved.
Japan said it has confirmed the abduction of 17 of its citizens by Pyongyang in the 1970s and 1980s. The North in 2002 admitted to 13 abductions, allowing five of them to return to Japan and saying the others had died. Speaking at the press conference, Mr Nakasone said Japan believed the new US administration of the US president Barack Obama would not change its North Korea policy "in any serious way". Mrs Clinton meanwhile warned that a missile launch North Korea has hinted it is planning "would be very unhelpful in moving our relationship forward".
On Monday, the isolated Stalinist country fuelled speculation that it is preparing to test a long-range missile, signalling that it will go ahead with a rocket launch as part of a "space development" programme. Pyongyang has previously tested missiles under the guise of launching a satellite. Analysts said the latest comments indicated North Korea was on the verge of a launch. Mrs Clinton said "the possible missile launch that North Korea is talking about would be very unhelpful in moving our relationship forward".