Japan, North Korea end talks without making any progress

Kyodo

Japan and North Korea completed two days of talks here aimed at normalizing ties Wednesday without making any substantial progress on the key issues of the abduction of Japanese nationals and Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program.

Katsunari Suzuki, Japan’s special envoy on negotiations with North Korea, said an agreement was reached to open a bilateral security dialogue, but he admitted the gap remains wide on other issues.

“We have not reached any conclusion from this meeting,” said Pak Ryong Yon, deputy head of the North Korean delegation. “We only reiterated our respective positions.”

North Korea proposed holding the next round of talks in November, but the Japanese delegates replied that they wanted to first return to Tokyo before setting a specific date for more talks, according to government sources.

Speaking to reporters after wrapping up the talks, Pak urged Japan to send the five abductees now on a homecoming trip back to Pyongyang, brushing aside Tokyo’s demand that their children be allowed to come to Japan to be reunited with their parents.

The five returned to Japan on Oct. 15 for the first time since being kidnapped to North Korea in 1978. Although they were initially scheduled to return to Pyongyang after a two-week stay, the Japanese government decided last week not to send them back and instead call for their children to visit Japan.

During the talks, North Korea accused Japan of “breaking its promise” to send the five back to Pyongyang.

Pak said Japan “should regain the lost trust (of North Korea)” by sending the abductees back to North Korea “to create an environment in which they can discuss” with their family members whether to settle in Japan.

Japan argues that the five are unable to make such decisions while their children are still in North Korea.

During the talks, the North Korean side reportedly guaranteed the safety of the abductees’ families in the secretive state.

Pak also said Pyongyang does not need to explain its nuclear program “because it is North Korea that is being threatened by the United States.”

During the two days of talks, Japan urged North Korea to immediately halt its uranium enrichment program.

According to a Foreign Ministry official who took part in the sessions, the gap between the two sides widened during the morning of the second day.

North Korea reportedly urged Japan to talk more about providing economic cooperation to the impoverished state in line with last month’s Pyongyang Declaration by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. North Korea did not want to focus on the abduction and nuclear program issues, which Japan sees as top-priority matters.

The final day of the talks began with a change of venue from the Japanese Embassy to a hotel in central Kuala Lumpur.

The ambassador-level talks were the 12th round since 1991, in line with a declaration signed by Koizumi and Kim in Pyongyang on Sept. 17.

Talks between the two countries in Beijing in October 2000 broke down over the abduction issue and North Korea’s demand for compensation for Japan’s harsh colonial rule. Japan and North Korea have no diplomatic relations.

Jong voiced dissatisfaction that Suzuki focused solely on the abductions and nuclear weapons issues since the beginning of talks Tuesday morning. He said the two countries should focus on ways to establish diplomatic ties as well as Japan’s economic aid to North Korea.

Suzuki responded that Tokyo is ready to listen to Pyongyang’s demand for economic assistance but emphasized that such aid would be provided only after bilateral ties are normalized.

The Pyongyang Declaration contains a promise by Japan to provide North Korea with economic cooperation “after” normalization of relations.

Other unresolved issues between the two countries include North Korea’s call for the improvement of the legal status of pro-Pyongyang Koreans residing permanently in Japan and the return of cultural assets taken from the Korean Peninsula during Japan’s colonial rule between 1910 and 1945.