HEADLINE: Powell Meets Japanese Leaders on North Korean Nuclear Program

INTRO: U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell left Japan for China on Sunday, the second stop of an Asian tour. Mr. Powell is visiting the region to discuss the impasse with North Korea, which is boycotting six-nation talks concerning its nuclear weapons programs. VOA's Steve Herman reports from Tokyo.

TEXT: After meetings Sunday morning with Japanese Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told reporters it is a "matter of urgency" for Pyongyang to return to talks about abandoning its nuclear weapons programs.

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"The sooner North Korea understands that there is only one way to solve this problem and that is through the six-party framework, the better off we will be."

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Mr. Machimura, appearing before the news media with his American counterpart, said the possibility of a nuclear-armed North Korea is one reason Japan decided to pursue a ballistic missile defense system.


The Japanese Foreign Minister says his country will bolster its defenses but will stop short of having its own atomic weapons, preferring to stay under the U.S. nuclear umbrella.

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North Korea accuses Japan and the United States of jointly plotting an attack on the Stalinist state.

The North Korean Foreign Ministry on Friday accused Washington of "evermore hostile acts" against Pyongyang. A spokesman cited new human rights legislation signed by President Bush last week and a nine-nation naval exercise in Japanese waters that begins Monday.

Mr. Powell says Pyongyang should not use the new human rights law and the maritime drill as excuses to boycott stalled six-nation talks.

The U.S. Secretary of State says the international naval exercise is meant to protect the world from rogue vessels carrying missiles, equipment for unconventional weapons or other contraband.

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"The only thing North Korea should be concerned about is whether or not they're going to be caught in the act of participating in this kind of illicit traffic. So this is not hostile to any nation that is acting in an appropriate manner."

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Mr. Powell is scheduled to meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao before departing for Seoul on Monday. China has been hosting the multi-lateral talks about North Korea's nuclear proliferation. Those talks also include the two Koreas, the United States, Japan and Russia.

A new round of discussions was scheduled for last month in Beijing, but North Korea declined to attend.

North Korea claims to have several plutonium-based nuclear weapons but denies American allegations it also has a secret uranium-based nuclear weapons program. (Signed)