SEOUL - Sanctions on North Korea will not be removed until Pyongyang returns to disarmament talks and takes serious steps toward scrapping its nuclear arms program, the foreign ministers of South Korea and Japan said on Thursday.
The comments come as the North's top nuclear envoy is in Beijing in a sign the destitute state may soon end its year-long boycott of six-country disarmament-for-aid nuclear talks hosted by its key ally, China.
North Korea has come under increasing pressure to return to the forum where it can win rewards for rolling back its nuclear program as U.N. sanctions imposed after a nuclear test last year dry up its coffers and a currency revaluation in late 2009 adds to its economic woes.
We shared the view that North Korea needs to take denuclearization steps in order for there to be peace treaty talks and the lifting of sanctions, Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada told a briefing in Seoul.
North Korea has called for a peace treaty with United States to replace the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War as a condition to returning to the disarmament deal that it signed in 2005 in return for massive economic aid.
South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan said the five countries in negotiations with the North aimed to keep up the pressure through sanctions while continuing to pursue dialogue to prod it back to the talks.
The talks involve the two Koreas, the United States, Japan, Russia and China and began in 2003.
Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's new government has no plans to contribute financially to the disarmament-for-aid deal until North Korea resolves the issue of Japanese nationals it kidnapped decades ago, a Japanese official said.
The issue of abduction is as important as the nuclear or missile issues for Japan, Kazuo Kodama, director general for press relations for the Foreign Ministry, told reporters.
South Korea has criticized Japan for not joining other partners in providing aid to the North to reward it for reducing the security threat it poses to the region while Pyongyang has said Japan should be removed entirely from the talks.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-il told a visiting Chinese envoy this week that his country was willing to talk about how to restart the stalled international process.
Some analysts said the dispatch of Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye-gwan, who represents the North at the six-way forum, to Beijing indicated that the two countries were working out a face-saving measure for Pyongyang to return to dialogue.
(Additional reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)