G8 meeting to focus on North Korea

Foreign ministers from wealthy countries urged a close examination of North Korea's declaration of its nuclear programmes today to determine how close it brings the communist state to surrendering its atomic ambitions, Japan's foreign minister said.

Today the ministers from the Group of Eight industrialised countries met in Kyoto, Japan, for a second day of talks expected to focus on nuclear programs in North Korea and Iran, the Middle East peace process, and the furore over Zimbabwe's presidential election.

Japanese Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura told reporters that the first morning session was dominated by Iran and North Korea's handing over of the declaration to China, which then triggered a US announcement that it would ease sanctions on the impoverished regime.

Komura said G8 ministers were cautious about Pyongyang's intentions.

"We agreed on the importance of thoroughly examining the declaration for the sake of achieving nuclear abandonment, which is the final goal," he said, adding that other ministers voiced support for Japan's demands for full resolution of the kidnappings of Japanese citizens by North Korean agents.

On Iran, ministers agreed on the need for both "dialogue and pressure" to get Tehran to abandon its uranium enrichment program. Iran says the programme is peaceful, but the US and others fear it could be used to produce nuclear weapons.

The European Union this week froze the assets of Iran's largest bank over Tehran's refusal to back off uranium enrichment.

Iran has yet to formally respond to a package of trade and economic incentives to make a deal. The offers were made June 14 by the five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany.

In their first day of talks, the ministers from the United States, Japan, Germany, France, Britain, Italy, Russia and Canada discussed efforts to stabilise Afghanistan's lawless frontier and called on the government of Hamid Karzai to do more to shore up itself against corruption.

In a joint statement, the ministers urged countries bordering Afghanistan - including Pakistan and Iran - to also help Kabul.

Japan has been eager to promote the discussion on Afghanistan, where it has pledged around 200bn Yen (€1.2bn) in aid.

Fighting between Taliban-led insurgents and foreign and government forces has been surging across the south and east of the country, with nearly 2,000 people killed in insurgency-related violence so far in 2008.

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