Japan's PM says North Korea still developing missiles despite launch pause

Slideshow ( 2 images )

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday said an almost two-month pause in North Korean missile tests was no indication that it had halted its weapons development, insisting it was too early for any talks with the regime.

“I believe that it continues to develop its weapons,” Abe told a news conference in Manila after a series of meetings with other Asian leaders at a gathering of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and East Asia Forum.

“There is no point for talks for the sake of talks,” he said.

Abe’s insistence that tough sanctions, including restrictions on oil sales, are necessary to soften up the North Korean regime over the coming winter could put him at loggerheads with other countries such as South Korea that might agree to open talks if approached by the North.

After firing missiles at a pace of about two or three a month since April, North Korean missile launches paused in September, after it fired a rocket that passed over Japan’s northern Hokkaido island.

Abe said he would work closely with other countries in the region including China and Russia to persuade North Korea to halt missile development and give up its nuclear weapon ambitions.

Abe, in a meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping at an Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Vietnam on Saturday, hailed a “fresh start” to the relationship between Asia’s two biggest economies and military powers, including cooperation on North Korea.

Abe on Tuesday said that he wanted to deepen cultural and economic ties with China.

The Japanese leader, who also called for an Indo-Pacific region that is “open and free to all” returns to Japan on Wednesday.

Reporting by Tim Kelly; Editing by Robert Birsel