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North Korea talks set for Monday

AFP-JIJI

Government officials from Japan and North Korea will hold talks in China on Monday, the first such meeting since November 2012, the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo and Red Cross Society said.

The talks will be on the sidelines of meetings by Red Cross officials from the two countries, a Japanese Red Cross spokesman said Thursday.

“The talks will be held in Shenyang on March 3,” he said.

The Foreign Ministry will send Keiichi Ono, head of its Northeast Asia division, to the meetings, a ministry official said.

“The Red Cross Society in North Korea approached its counterpart in Japan, requesting the meetings,” the official said.

Ties between the two countries have long been strained, though attempts are made occasionally to resume dialogue with the ultimate — and so far elusive — goal of establishing formal diplomatic relations.

Officials from the two Red Cross societies last met in August 2012 and this led to the talks by government officials that November.

They had planned to meet again in December 2012, but that attempt was canceled after Pyongyang declared a plan to launch a missile.

Red Cross officials will discuss on-and-off visits by Japanese nationals to the graves of family members who died in North Korea decades ago or missions to collect their remains, the Red Cross official said.

One of the thorniest issues between Tokyo and Pyongyang is the fate of Japanese citizens who were kidnapped by North Korean agents in the 1970s and ’80s.

But it is not clear if government officials will discuss that matter in the upcoming talks, the ministry official said.

“The meetings are scheduled to discuss the Red Cross mission,” he said.

Tokyo continues to want further answers regarding the abducted citizens amid suspicions in Japan that Pyongyang has failed to provide all the information it has.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga expressed hope Friday that Monday’s meeting will pave the way for the restart of intergovernmental talks on the abductions and other bilateral issues.

“We would like to draw a positive response from North Korea regarding the abductions and other outstanding issues,” Suga said at a news conference.

Secretive North Korea admitted in 2002 its agents kidnapped Japanese to help train spies by teaching them the Japanese language and culture, and later allowed five of them to return home. Afterward, the North let their families reunite with the five in Japan.

It said another eight had died, although many in Japan hold out hope that they remain alive. There are also suspicions that Pyongyang’s agents abducted more Japanese than was admitted.

Japan says North Korea agreed to reopen investigations into the fate of abducted Japanese when the two sides met in 2008.

From a security standpoint, Japan also remains wary of North Korea’s past ballistic missile tests over its territory or aimed at its airspace as well as underground nuclear experiments in 2006, 2009 and 2013 and threats of more.

North Korea, meanwhile, craves trade with Japan yet blasts its military alliance with the United States, colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula in the first half of the 20th century and the treatment of ethnic Koreans in Japan.