Tokyo, Pyongyang to talk on weekend

by Reiji Yoshida

Japan and North Korea have agreed to resume working-level government talks Saturday and Sunday in Beijing, and Tokyo again will demand the abduction issue be resolved, the top government spokesman said Wednesday.

Japan also will raise security issues, including North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe told a regular news conference Wednesday.

The announcement came a day after Pyongyang said it would beef up its nuclear facilities to meet energy demands after the U.S. scrapped a project to provide it with light-water nuclear reactors amid the standoff over the North’s atomic threat.

The talks will be led by Akitaka Saiki, deputy head of the Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, and Song Il Ho, vice director of the North Korean Foreign Ministry’s Asian Affairs Department, Abe said.

“Without a resolution of the abduction issue, normalization of bilateral relations is impossible. I want to make this clear first,” Abe said.

At the most recent bilateral meeting in early November, Japan proposed that the two countries hold separate discussions on the abduction issue, security and normalization of diplomatic ties.

Tokyo is hoping for a positive response from North Korea on the three-track proposal during the talks, Abe said.

North Korea, which in past occasions has flatly refused to hold bilateral talks, now appears to be very willing to resume diplomatic contact, according to senior officials in the prime minister’s office.

“North Korea probably wants to maintain a pipeline (to Japan) ahead of (another round of the now-stalled) six-party talks” on its nuclear threat, one of the officials said.

Japan, the United States, China, Russia and South Korea are now negotiating with North Korea to hold another round of the six-way talks, aimed at convincing the Stalinist state to abandon its nuclear arms program.

However, whether Pyongyang is really serious about making progress in the Japan-proposed bilateral three-track talks has yet to be seen, the official said, adding,”You never know until the meeting starts.”

Last month’s talks between Japan and North Korea marked the first meeting in a year. But little headway was made on the contentious issues, notably the abductions.

Tokyo’s position is that 11 Japanese kidnapped in the 1970s and 1980s by North Korean agents remain unaccounted for, up from 10 listed in April, when the government added a man who disappeared in the 1970s.

Pyongyang claims that of the 10 Japanese, eight died in North Korea and the other two never entered the country.