KYOTO, Japan (AFP) – Foreign ministers from the Group of Eight industrial powers called Friday on Iran and North Korea to end their nuclear programmes, officials said.
The foreign ministers were also discussing the political turmoil in Zimbabwe ahead of its controversial election later in the day as they met in a former imperial palace in Kyoto.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and top diplomats from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia gathered a day after North Korea submitted a long-overdue declaration on its nuclear programme.
“The important thing is to thoroughly verify it and lead to our final objective of abandonment of nuclear weapons,” Japanese Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura told reporters during a break from talks.
He said the ministers also supported Japan’s push for North Korea to do more to resolve an emotional dispute on the fate of Japanese civilians whom the communist regime kidnapped in the 1970s and 1980s to train its spies.
Japan had opposed the US decision on Thursday to remove North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism due to the abduction issue. Pyongyang returned five abductees in 2002 but Japan contends that more are alive.
“All of the participants showed support for us. The issue is important not only for Japan — it is a human rights issue for the international community,” Komura said.
North Korea was expected Friday to demolish part of a nuclear facility to showcase its commitment to denuclearisation under a six-nation aid-for-disarmament deal reached last year.
While North Korea reaps the rewards of progress in disarmament, Western powers have been ramping up pressure on Iran, which refuses to suspend sensitive uranium enrichment.
The European Union on Monday approved sanctions stopping operations of Bank Melli, Iran’s largest financial institution, in Britain, France and Germany — the three EU countries negotiating with Tehran.
“We as the G8 will call jointly on Iran to cooperate with the international community,” Komura told reporters.
He called for a policy of “dialogue and pressure” with the Islamic republic, which says that its uranium enrichment is for peaceful purposes.
Other issues up for discussion Friday include the crisis in Zimbabwe, which heads to the polls even though President Robert Mugabe’s rival dropped out after a wave of violence.
Rice on Thursday called on Mugabe’s party to open a dialogue with the opposition led by Morgan Tsvangirai, saying that the election would not result in a “legitimate” government.
The ministers were also set to discuss the Middle East peace process and the bloodshed in Darfur.
Japan is due to hold peace talks on Wednesday with senior Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian ministers in preparation for the July 7-9 G8 summit in the northern resort town of Toyako.
Kazuo Kodama, press secretary at Japan’s foreign ministry, said that the G8 considered Darfur, where up to 300,000 people are estimated to have died since 2003, “the greatest humanitarian crisis of the century.”
The first day of talks Thursday focused on ways to improve stability in Afghanistan, where the government is fighting a Taliban insurgency.
Japan said the G8 had agreed to spend four billion dollars in some 150 projects to develop the troubled border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The G8 also encouraged Pakistan and Afghanistan to engage in dialogue to resolve growing tensions.