Japan, North Korea to hold talks this week

Kyodo

Envoys from Japan and North Korea agreed Saturday to hold their first formal talks in nine months next week to discuss disputes that are preventing them from improving bilateral ties, Japan’s delegate said.

The working-level talks will take place in Beijing on Wednesday and Thursday between Akitaka Saiki, director general of the Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, and Song Il Ho, North Korea’s ambassador for normalization talks with Japan.

“We agreed to meet again next week,” Saiki told reporters after a two-hour meeting with Song in the Chinese capital, which was described by Japan as a preparatory meeting for formal negotiations.

“The other side also indicated the notion that there is a need to move forward. We will hold deeper exchanges of views over a longer period next week,” he said.

The two countries last held full-fledged bilateral talks in Ulan Bator last September under the six-party framework aimed at ridding North Korea of nuclear weapons.

One of the thorniest issues is the two countries’ dispute over the number of Japanese nationals North Korean agents kidnapped in the 1970s and 1980s, and the fates of some of them, including whether they are still alive.

Japan has repeatedly demanded Pyongyang reopen or newly investigate the cases of 12 of the 17 abductees on Japan’s official list — except the five who returned in 2002.

North Korea has said it considers the cases closed.

“I repeated our view on this topic, and said it is extremely important to solve this issue for relations to make progress,” Saiki said.