Rice turns the heat on Asia
UNITED States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice embarked on a six-nation Asian tour this week amid much speculation about the six-nation nuclear talks on North Korea's nuclear programme. Besides China and the two Koreas, the nuclear talks include the US, Japan and Russia.
Rice called on North Korea to end its nuclear programme and renounce weapons of mass destruction for good. "What we need is a strategic decision on the part of the North that they are indeed ready to give up their nuclear weapons because without that these talks cannot be successful," Rice told reporters.
On 10 February, North Korea announced for the first time that it had nuclear weapons. "We have never made any secret about the fact that there are other issues that will also have to be resolved. The nuclear issue is the one that is pressing us as we return to the talks," she said.
The US has become increasingly concerned about what it sees as the bellicose nature of the North Korean regime.
North Korea fired a missile over Japan in 1998, and has repeatedly asked for Tokyo to be kicked out of the nuclear talks. The Japanese have consistently claimed that North Korea abducts Japanese nationals. Tokyo believes that Pyongyang has kidnapped at least eight Japanese nationals. North Korea released five Japanese kidnap victims and their families in 2002 in exchange for an aid package but says that the others are dead. Tokyo is sceptical of the Pyongyang's claims and believes at least eight of its nationals snatched by North Korea are alive and being kept under wraps in an unknown location in the country.
Washington also wants Japan, which pays more into the United Nations budget than any other country except the US, to have a permanent seat at the UN Security Council. China, the only other Asian country with a permanent seat at the UN Security Council vehemently opposes the Japanese bid.