Japan, North Korea normalization talks begin in Pyongyang


Japanese and North Korean negotiators agreed Tuesday to maximize efforts to establish diplomatic ties as they sat down over dinner here and kicked off their official schedule before today’s resumption of negotiations that collapsed in 1992.

“We must pin our efforts on normalization, working to overcome obstacles and build confidence between the two nations,” said Ambassador Jong Thae Hwa, who is representing the North Korean side.

Kojiro Takano, who leads the Japanese side as ambassador in charge of the talks, said he “perceived extraordinary commitment” in Jong’s remarks.

“It’s my first time to meet Ambassador Jong but I’m happy now and I’m sure we can build good personal ties,” Takano said.

The Japanese delegation arrived in the North Korean capital earlier Tuesday after a one-night stopover in Beijing.

But Japanese officials said the two sides are unlikely to make significant progress during the “get acquainted” session.

The first round of talks will be followed by a second in Tokyo and a third in Beijing or another country.

There may be more than three rounds of talks as there are wide gaps remaining from previous discussions as well as in the latest issues between the two, the officials said.

The Japanese Cabinet’s resignation and the selection of a successor to Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, who remains hospitalized and comatose following a stroke he suffered over the weekend, are also adding to the uncertainty surrounding the discussions.

Through the media, the two nations have already expressed their positions on stumbling blocks remaining from previous rounds — the alleged abduction of at least 10 Japanese nationals by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s and compensation for Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

In terms of recent issues, Japan will seek Pyongyang’s restraint on nuclear and missile development and will encourage North Korea to respond positively to recent South Korean overtures to begin inter-Korean dialogue, the officials said.