TOKYO • North Korea has resumed plutonium production by reprocessing spent fuel rods and has no plans to stop nuclear tests as long as perceived United States threats remain, Japan's Kyodo news agency reported yesterday.
North Korea's Atomic Energy Institute, which has jurisdiction over its main Yongbyon nuclear facilities, told Kyodo: "We have reprocessed spent nuclear fuel rods removed from a graphite-moderated reactor."
The institute added that North Korea has been producing highly enriched uranium necessary for nuclear arms and power "as scheduled", Kyodo said.
This came amid reports that Japan, China and South Korea are in talks to hold a meeting of their foreign ministers next week.
Last month, a senior Japanese Foreign Ministry official said Japan was considering holding the meeting later this month, but the flare-up in Sino-Japanese tensions fuelled concerns that it was difficult to have such a meeting now.
The Tokyo Shimbun daily said the three countries were making arrangements for the meeting to be held around Aug 23 and 24 in Tokyo.
The foreign ministers' meeting is expected to lay the groundwork for a three-way summit that Tokyo is set to host this year.
Citing unnamed diplomatic sources, the report out of Beijing said it was possible that the Japan Coast Guard's rescue of Chinese fishermen last week had warmed China to the idea of sending Foreign Minister Wang Yi to Japan for the meeting.
The three-way foreign ministers' and summit meetings are an important framework to discuss pressing regional issues, such as North Korea's nuclear and missile programmes.
Tensions between Japan and China mounted this month after a growing number of China's Coast Guard and other government ships sailed near disputed islets in the East China Sea.
Tokyo lodged a fresh diplomatic protest with China yesterday over the intrusions.
The group of tiny, uninhabited islands, called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, is controlled by Japan but claimed also by China.