Japan-North Korea talks set for Saturday

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Japan and North Korea on Saturday will start working-level talks on bilateral issues, including the fate of 10 missing Japanese, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda said Wednesday.

Akitaka Saiki, deputy director of the Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, will represent Japan at the Beijing talks, while Song Il Ho, vice director of North Korea’s Foreign Ministry, will head the other delegation.

Japan will probably spend most of the time on the abduction issue, but it will also touch on North Korea’s nuclear arms and missile programs, a senior Foreign Ministry official said.

Japan hopes North Korea will submit a report on the investigation that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il promised to carry out on the fate of the 10 Japanese during his May 22 summit with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. Pyongyang earlier claimed eight of the 10 had died after being kidnapped to North Korea and the other two had ever entered the country.

Tokyo is not optimistic that the North will provide a full-scale report during the three days of talks, even though four months have passed since the May summit. But officials hope another round of talks will put pressure on Pyongyang.

“North Korea will naturally give us a report of some kind,” Hosoda said. “But I have not yet heard that the investigation has been completed.”

But a senior government official who requested anonymity said there may be developments during the talks because Pyongyang hopes to gain the remaining half of food aid from Japan.

Japan has already started sending the first half of the 250,000 tons in food aid that Koizumi pledged in May and will have shipped 125,000 tons by the end of October, but no timetable has been set on the remaining half.