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Monday, June 09, 2008

Japan says will resume talks with NKorea after break

Kyoko Hasegawa

TOKYO - Japan said Friday it would resume bilateral talks with North Korea after a gap of nine months as slow-moving efforts to end Pyongyang's nuclear programs gather steam.

The talks, to be held on Saturday and Sunday in Beijing, will be the first formal round of dialogue between the longtime adversaries since early September.

The negotiations, which aim to establish bilateral relations between Tokyo and the hardline communist state, were set up under a US-backed six-nation deal last year on disarming North Korea.

"The talks will be about the current situation between Japan and North Korea, and about how to deal with the future of the bilateral relations," Japanese Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura told reporters.

Akitaka Saiki, Japan's chief envoy to the six-nation talks, will hold the talks with Song Il-Ho, a senior North Korean diplomat handling relations with Tokyo, according to Japanese officials.

The announcement of the talks comes amid small signs of hope in the stalled process for disarming the North. Six-way talks have not been held since the end of September.

US officials expect North Korea to submit soon a declaration of its nuclear programs required under the US-backed disarmament deal.

The declaration is more than six months overdue due to wrangling over alleged secret weapons programs and proliferation by Pyongyang.

The bilateral talks will be the first since the installation last year of Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, who throughout his career has championed reconciliation with Asian neighbours including North Korea.

"We have been telling China, North Korea and the United States that Japan is always ready to resume" bilateral talks, chief government spokesman Nobutaka Machimura said before the announcement.

But North Korea, which fired a missile over Japan's main island in 1998, is enemy number one for many Japanese.

Japan has demanded that North Korea offer concessions in a row over Japanese civilians kidnapped by the communist regime in the 1970s and 1980s to train its spies.

Pyongyang, in turn, has pressed Tokyo for compensation over Japan's harsh 1910-1945 colonial rule over the Korean peninsula.

The last round of talks between Japan and North Korea took place in September in Mongolia. They yielded no breakthrough but marked a change in tone as the two sides spoke in a civil manner.

North Korea has admitted kidnapping 13 Japanese in the 1970s and 1980s to train its spies in Japanese language and culture.

It returned five victims and their families and says the row is resolved. Japan insists that North Korea is hiding survivors and abducted more people it does not acknowledge.

The six-nation talks involve China, Japan, the two Koreas, Russia and the United States.

Japan's vice foreign minister Mitoji Yabunaka on Thursday met in Tokyo with his South Korean counterpart and "agreed to keep close cooperation between Japan, South Korea and the United States on the North Korean issue," a foreign ministry statement said.

"Japan explained its position of seeking to realize normalization of ties with the North by seeking a comprehensive resolution of issues such as the abduction, nuclear weapons and missiles as well as the unfortunate past," it said.

© AFP 2008



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