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Aso, Lee agree North Korea nuclear moves unacceptable

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese and South Korean leaders agreed on Sunday that Pyongyang’s nuclear moves are unacceptable and said they will strengthen cooperation between each other and with regional powers to halt North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak (L) flanked by Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso speaks during their joint news conference at the premier's official residence in Tokyo June 28, 2009. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

The meeting between Japan’s premier Taro Aso and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak in Tokyo, where Lee was visiting for a day, came as the North has rattled the region with a nuclear test in May and with preparations to fire long- and mid-range missiles.

“North Korea’s nuclear and missile developments are serious security threats and absolutely cannot be accepted,” Aso told a news conference after the meeting.

“We have agreed in today’s meeting that we will strengthen the cooperation between Japan, South Korea and the United States, while agreeing on the necessity of deepening the cooperation with China.”

The two leaders agreed China needs to play a key role if North Korea is to give up its nuclear ambitions, a Japanese official said.

Aso and Lee also agreed to consider holding a meeting of Japan, South Korea, China, Russia and the United States to discuss how to move forward the prolonged six-party talks aimed at achieving the North’s nuclear disarmament. Pyongyang has said it is boycotting further six-party talks.

The other five parties have tried for years to persuade the North to give up its efforts build a nuclear arsenal in return for aid. But the North said it would abandon the talks after the U.N. Security Council agreed to punish it for its rocket launch in April.

The U.N. Security Council punished it for the missile launch by tightening existing sanctions and imposing new ones after the nuclear test to halt its arms trading, one of the few items the cash-short state with a broken down economy can export.

Aso and Lee said on Sunday that U.N. member states need to implement the latest sanctions.

They also agreed senior officials of Japan and South Korea would meet on Wednesday to discuss the possibility of resuming stalled negotiations for a free trade deal.

“If Japan and South Korea can understand each other’s positions well, then I am positively thinking that an agreement may be reached at a surprisingly early period,” Lee said.

Japan and South Korea, key trade partners withe one another, launched negotiations for a free trade deal in 2003, but talks stalled a year later due to wrangling over tariffs, as pressures mounted in both countries to protect their farm sectors.