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Japan Freezes Aid and Drops Proposed Talks With N. Korea

By Sonni Efron
Los Angeles Times
TOKYO

Outraged by a North Korean missile test that apparently sent a warhead flying over Japan and into the Pacific, Japan announced Tuesday that it is freezing food and energy aid to the Communist regime and withdrawing its offer for talks aimed at normalizing relations between the two countries.

Meanwhile, a North Korean delegation in New York failed to show up for talks scheduled with U.S. officials Tuesday, saying more time was needed for consultations with its government following the missile launch, raising the prospect that hermit-like, Stalinist North Korea will face a renewed period of international isolation.

And the Republican chairman of the House International Relations Committee, who had traveled to New York to attend the talks, said Tuesday evening that the missile firing and the lapse in the negotiations mean it is time for the Clinton administration to reconsider its North Korea policy.

Unless North Korea resumed negotiations and showed some progress, Rep. Benjamin A. Gilman, R-N.Y., said he did not expect Congress to approve continued funding for fuel oil the United States is supposed to provide North Korea in return for the regime's agreement not to develop nuclear weapons.

He added that U.S. food aid to the famine-plagued nation might also be in jeopardy.

"If they are going to be obstinate and still maintain they were essentially doing the right thing and testing the long-range missile. I think then the Congress would have to take a very strong stand," said Gilman.

Japan intends to lodge a protest with the U.N. Security Council and General Assembly, and will consider deploying reconnaissance satellites and an anti-ballistic missile defense system in order to protect itself against the North Korean threat, the Japanese government's chief spokesman announced Tuesday evening.

He had attended a meeting between Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi and senior officials.

Shortly after noon Monday, North Korea fired a new, two-stage missile, believed to be a Taepodong 1 with a range of up to about 1,250 miles.

One stage of the rocket landed in the Japan Sea, another flew over the main Japanese island of Honshu and landed about 350 miles offshore in the Pacific, while the nose cone, which apparently did not contain an armed warhead, traveled still further east before landing in the ocean, according to the Japanese Defense Agency.

The United States was able to film the ballistic missile for "several tens of seconds" after the launch, using a reconnaissance satellite, according to unnamed military quoted by the Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan's largest daily newspaper.

Japan is particularly angered by the missile launch as it had made major efforts in recent years to improve relations with North Korea, sending more than $34 million in food aid since 1995 and pledging at least $1 billion to an international consortium that is building two nuclear power plants for North Korea as part of a 1994 deal that persuaded the Pyongyang regime to abandon its plutonium weapons program.

That reactor aid was frozen Tuesday.

Japan also had succeeded in arranging the visits of some of the elderly Japanese wives who had emigrated to North Korea, mostly in the late 1950s, together with their Korean husbands, and had never been allowed to return.

But this summer, North Korea abruptly terminated the visits, and unilaterally halted talks aimed at re-establishing diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Japan had left on the table its offer to resume negotiations at any time, without conditions, but that offer was withdrawn Tuesday.