SEOUL - North Korea's foreign ministry said Tuesday that Japan had no business participating in the six-nation talks and that Pyongyang would not "tolerate" its presence at future talks, "if indeed such talks are held."
The defiant communist country also warned that it would ignore any written security guarantee by the United States as "an empty piece of paper," and vowed to strengthen its "nuclear deterrent force" -- a reference to atomic weapons -- to cope with its perceived threat of a U.S. attack.
Pyongyang's official news agency KCNA quoted a foreign ministry spokesman as saying that Japan's motivation for the talks was "selfish" and posed an "obstacle to the peaceful solution to the nuclear problem."
"Japan has lost its qualification as a reliable party for dialogue and we will not allow it squeezing itself into any form of future negotiations," the spokesman said. South Korean officials voiced concerns that the North's toughening stance would hurt the hard-won dialogue momentum toward a peaceful resolution to the yearlong nuclear crisis.
Japan had joined the United States, China, Russia and South Korea in the first round of six-way talks with North Korea to defuse the nuclear crisis in Beijing in late August. The discussions ended with no agreement and with North Korea describing the talks "useless" and "harmful" because of Washington's "hostile" stance against it.
Last year North Korea and Japan had been negotiating the normalization of relations. However, North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-Il admitted that the North had abducted 12 Japanese citizens during the 1970s and 1980s. He sent five of them back to Japan. Pyongyang hoped that would settle the issue, but public outcries in Japan against the kidnapping worsened so much that the normalization negotiations stopped altogether.
Riding a tide of anti-Pyongyang sentiment in Japan, Tokyo recently initiated a procedure to seize facilities owned by the pro-Pyongyang General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, or Chongryon, over unpaid taxes.
The North's statement warned Japan's moves to suppress Chongryon and North Korea would spark an angry response by its 1.1-million-strong People's Army.
From the beginning, North Korea has been opposed to the six-nation talk structure and has insisted on bilateral dialogue with the United States to settle the nuclear crisis. However, it yielded to pressure from the international community to begin talks involving the United States, China, South Korea and Japan.
Many observers believe Pyongyang's abrupt announcement was aimed at gaining more concessions from Washington by influencing the U.S.-South Korea-Japan consultations. But some experts in Seoul think Pyongyang has consistency in its strategy.
Cho Myung-Chul, an economist who had taught at Pyongyang's Kim Il-Sung University before he defected to South Korea, said: "Pyongyang believes it has more to lose than to gain in six-nation talks." Cho reasons that if North Korea sat down together with the U.S., South Korea and Japan, each nation would address the problems it feels most urgent. The U.S. would demand a solution to nuclear problem, Japan to missiles and South Korea to conventional weapons. "Then, they will have no cards left to play in one-to-one negotiations," Cho said.
North Korea also said it would dismiss any written security guarantee by the United States recently proposed giving to the communist country. "The written security guarantee is nothing more than an empty piece of paper that cannot provide any legal guarantee," KCNA said in a commentary.
North Korea has said it wants security guarantees from the United States before agreeing to abandon its nuclear ambitions, whereas Washington says Pyongyang must give it up first before getting any concessions.
Secretary of State Colin Powell said last week that the U.S. would be willing to consider offering some sort of security guarantees to North Korea.
The North's warning came just after South Korea, Japan and China agreed to strengthen cooperation to keep the Korean peninsula free of nuclear weapons, on the sidelines of the annual ASEAN Plus Three forum in Indonesia.