Japan, North Korea edge closer to talks

Japan and North Korea are in the final stage of negotiating the terms for their normalization talks scheduled for Oct. 29 or 30 in Kuala Lumpur, Japanese government sources said Tuesday.

Resumption of the talks would be held with the hope of normalizing diplomatic relations and could eventually lead to the establishment of formal diplomatic ties. Ambassador-level officials will head each delegation, the sources said.

The last time Pyongyang and Tokyo held normalization talks was in October 2000.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said the issue of North Korea’s abduction of Japanese nationals must be addressed, but Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said the abductions were unlikely to be covered in great detail in the first round.

“Many people are angry (over the abduction issue),” the prime minister said in a meeting with prefectural governors at his office.

“We must take up the kidnapping problem in negotiations” with North Korea by fully understanding the feelings of relatives of the victims.

A government mission to probe the abduction cases returned from North Korea last week with a number of documents and photos, and the remains of one of the victims.

The relatives said many of the North Korean documents and explanations, particularly on how eight of the abductees died, could not be trusted. They called for more precise investigations.

Fukuda said the first meeting would probably cover procedural ground. “It is likely the discussions will be about frameworks for proceeding with the normalization talks,” he said.

He also said police officers probing the abductions will not be included in the Japanese delegation in the first round. Whether police officers should join the talks is an issue that should discussed after they resume, he said.

Koizumi and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il agreed during landmark talks in Pyongyang on Sept. 17 to resume normalization talks in October.

During the summit, North Korea admitted abducting Japanese citizens in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and informed Japan that eight of them had died and five are living in North Korea.

Japan and North Korea began ambassador-level talks for normalization in 1991.

But the negotiations were suspended in October 2000 due to differences over the abduction issue and North Korea’s claim for compensation for Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.