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Last Updated: Friday, 27 April 2007, 18:03 GMT 19:03 UK
Japan-US talks pressure N Korea
Shinzo Abe and George W Bush
This is Mr Abe's first visit to the US as Japan's prime minister
The leaders of Japan and the US have strengthened calls for North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program.

US President George W Bush and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe threatened further sanctions against Pyongyang over its controversial nuclear work.

On his first visit to the US as leader, Mr Abe also apologised for Japan's role in World War II sex slavery.

Mr Bush also pressed Mr Abe at a shared news conference over a standoff on Japanese imports of US beef.

'Price to pay'

Mr Bush said North Korea would have to pay a heavy price for delays in carrying out its promise to disarm, after Pyongyang missed a deadline to close its nuclear reactor under a deal reached in February.

North Korea's nuclear programme
Abduction of Japanese citizens by North Korea
Joint ballistic missile defence system
Realignment of US troops in Japan
Japan's support for Iraqi reconstruction
Changes to Japan's pacifist constitution
Greater co-operation over climate change
Japan's easing of restrictions on US beef imports

"Our partners in the six-party talks are patient, but our patience is not unlimited," Mr Bush said.

Speaking alongside Mr Bush at the Camp David presidential retreat, Mr Abe said: "We completely see eye to eye on this matter. They need to respond properly on these issues, otherwise we will have to take a tougher response."

Japan is already withholding aid from North Korea, but Mr Abe said sanctions "will worsen" if the reclusive communist nation continues to defy the six-party agreement, reached between Pyongyang, the US, Japan, China, Russia and South Korea.

'Deeply sorry'

Mr Bush accepted Mr Abe's apology over the Japanese military's use of so-called "comfort women" during World War II, saying it was "a regrettable chapter in the history of the world and I accept the prime minister's apology".

Earlier on Friday, Mr Abe said comments he made in March, which appeared to minimise Japan's role in the sex slavery, were misunderstood.

Mr Bush,  Mr Abe and their wives outside the White House
Mr Abe and his wife had dinner at the White House

But he has since stated several times that he stands by an official 1993 statement in which Japan acknowledged the imperial army set up and ran brothels for its wartime troops.

"I feel deeply sorry that they were forced to be placed in such extremely painful situations," he was quoted as saying by Japanese government officials.

'Good hamburger'

On the economic front, Mr Bush said Japan should be importing US beef.

"I brought up to the prime minister that I'm absolutely convinced the Japanese people will be better off when they eat American beef," Mr Bush said.

"It's good beef; it's healthy beef. As a matter of fact, I'm going to feed the prime minister's delegation a good hamburger for lunch."

US beef exports to Japan were about $1.4bn a year until 2003, when mad cow disease was discovered in the US. In 2006, exports were down to $66m.

Low-key visit

Correspondents say Mr Abe's visit will be subdued in comparison to that of his flamboyant predecessor Junichiro Koizumi, who had a close relationship with Mr Bush.

On Mr Koizumi's last visit before leaving office, he wowed Americans with an Elvis Presley impersonation on a visit to Graceland.

Mr Abe broke with a tradition that the new Japanese prime minister's first overseas visit should be to Washington. Instead, he went to China and South Korea in a bid to ease strained ties.

He met Mr Bush for the first time in November, on the sidelines of a Pacific Rim summit in Vietnam.

Mr Abe's visit to the US will also include a trip to the Arlington National Cemetery and dinner at the White House before he leaves for a five-nation tour of the Middle East.

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