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The homecoming of Japanese wives living in North Korea is imminent. However, this event alone is not expected to lead to an immediate resumption of negotiations on normalizing bilateral diplomatic ties.

The wives’ return visit, however, and Japan’s decision to extend food aid are improving the atmosphere between the two countries, increasing the likelihood that talks will take place in the near future, according to Masaji Takahashi, who early last month was appointed Japan’s representative to such talks.

“I am not sure whether the recent developments will accelerate the normalization talks, but I think the environment is gradually improving,” Takahashi said in a recent interview with The Japan Times. Both countries agreed to the visit in late August. A group of 15 Japanese women will return to their home country for the first time in roughly four decades in a visit that will last from Nov. 8 to 14.

The decision to allow the homecoming was among issues that needed to be resolved before the Japanese government extended food aid to famine-stricken Korea. The government decided last month to extend $27 million in humanitarian aid to the communist state in response to a U.N. appeal.

In August, the two countries also agreed to resume normalization talks, which had been long-stalled. Both countries have agreed that the talks should take place as soon as possible, although Takahashi said preparation is needed before they can go ahead.

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