G-8 foreign ministers slam Zimbabwe vote, cautious on N. Korea

Ministers also agree on need for both "dialogue and pressure" to persuade Iran to abandon its uranium enrichment program.

rice g8 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
rice g8 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Foreign ministers from wealthy nations said Friday they would not recognize the outcome of a runoff presidential election in Zimbabwe, and stressed there is a long road ahead before North Korea can rejoin the international community. The Group of Eight ministers, closing a two-day meeting in Kyoto, said they were deeply concerned by the situation in the African nation, where President Robert Mugabe is holding a one-candidate runoff election. "We deplore the actions of the Zimbabwean authorities - systematic violence, obstruction and intimidation - which have made a free and fair presidential runoff election impossible," they said in a joint statement. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called the runoff a "sham" that "could not possibly produce a legitimate outcome." Rice added that the US would raise the matter with other members of the U.N. Security Council. In the joint statement, the G-8 ministers said results of elections on March 29 must be respected. Because of the violence, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai withdrew from the runoff Sunday, leaving Mugabe the only candidate. Tsvangirai's party and its allies won control of parliament in the March elections, dislodging the longtime president's party for the first time since independence in 1980. Along with Zimbabwe, North Korea was the core topic as the G-8 ministers met Friday morning for their second and final day of talks aimed at setting the political agenda for the annual G-8 summit next month. Pyongyang on Thursday handed over a declaration of its nuclear programs and activities to China. Washington immediately responded by saying it would lift some trade sanctions and move to take Pyongyang off its terrorism blacklist. The G-8 ministers, however, stressed the declaration was just one step in what will be a long and difficult verification process. "There is a long road ahead," Rice said, noting that although the declaration covered thousands of pages it did not clear up questions about North Korea's enrichment of uranium and other concerns. "We know North Korea has a record of not living up to its obligations," she said. Rice acknowledged that Washington's welcoming of the North Korean declaration was tempered by strong concerns in Japan that pressure must be maintained toward resolving questions over North Korea's abduction of Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 80s. North Korea has admitted to kidnapping 13 Japanese citizens, presumably to train spies in Japanese language and culture. Pyongyang released five of them in 2002, saying the remaining eight had died, but Japan is demanding proof of the deaths and an investigation into other suspected abductions. Japan is especially cautious because it feels the North Korean nuclear threat directly - the country is well within range of North Korea's ballistic missiles. North Korea's nuclear stockpile was not included in its Thursday declaration. On another nonproliferation front, the ministers agreed on the need for both "dialogue and pressure" to persuade Iran to abandon its uranium enrichment program. Iran says the program is peaceful, but the United States 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 Teheran'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 closing statement, the ministers from the United States, Japan, Germany, France, Britain, Italy, Russia and Canada said they would step up efforts to stabilize Afghanistan's lawless frontier and called on the government of Hamid Karzai to do more to fight corruption. They urged countries bordering Afghanistan - including Pakistan and Iran - to also help Kabul. The ministers pledged to continue aid for reconstruction in cyclone-ravaged Myanmar, but called on the ruling junta to improve transparency in its receipt of international help.