SEOUL, South Korea – The United States has asked Australia, New Zealand and the European Union whether they could provide energy assistance to North Korea under an aid-for-disarmament deal, a South Korean official said Saturday.
Under last year's landmark six-nation pact, North Korea was promised the equivalent of 1 million tons of energy aid from the U.S., South Korea, China, Japan and Russia in return for dismantling its nuclear facilities. Japan, however, has refused to donate its part of energy shipment amid a dispute over Pyongyang's abduction of its citizens in the past.
Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan said in an interview published Saturday in the Korea Times that the U.S. tapped the opinions of the three parties about taking part in the energy aid instead of Japan.
"Once agreed, the relevant parties would share energy assistance valued at some $100 million, though we don't know yet how much and in what way each party will contribute," Yu said.
South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Moon Tae-young confirmed Yu's remarks.
Yu also said there is still a possibility that Japan would change its position, citing U.S. pressure on North Korea to resolve the abduction issue.
Calls to the U.S. Embassy, Australian Embassy, New Zealand Embassy and the EU office in Seoul for possible comments were unanswered Saturday.
In 2002, North Korea acknowledged it had kidnapped 13 Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 80s to train its spies. It sent five of them home later that year, and said the remaining eight had died. Japan, however, has demanded proof of the deaths and a full account of additional suspected abduction cases.
International efforts to resolve North Korea's nuclear threats achieved major progress last month as Pyongyang resumed disabling its nuclear facilities shortly after the U.S. removed it from its terrorism blacklist.
Washington said Pyongyang had agreed to all its nuclear inspection demands. But inspections have not yet begun because the U.S. terrorism delisting still awaits formal approval from the six-party nuclear talks.
Yu said he expected a new round of the six-party talks to reopen before the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, or APEC, summit is held Nov. 22-23 in Peru.
North Korea has complained that it completed eight out of 11 key measures to disable its key nuclear facilities, but has only received half of the promised aid.