Staff writerPositive developments have been emerging between Japan and North Korea in their efforts to resume negotiations aimed at establishing diplomatic ties, but a bumpy road still lies ahead, partly because of the deterioration of the South Korean economy.A resumption of full-scale normalization talks is not expected until spring at the earliest because Japan still suspects that North Korean agents abducted Japanese and because the government needs to watch Seoul’s new policies toward Pyongyang under the administration of President-elect Kim Dae Jung.”Positive signs have been seen” in the effort to resume normalization talks, Vice Foreign Minister Shunji Yanai said. “We hope to resume the talks as early as possible, although a specific schedule has not yet been set.”Bilateral relations have been improving as the two governments prepare for the second and third homecoming visits of Japanese women who live in North Korea, Yanai said. Fifteen Japanese women living in North Korea visited in November for about a week. It was the first such homecoming for women who moved to North Korea with their Korean husbands roughly four decades ago.Delegates of the Red Cross societies of Japan and North Korea agreed in December that a second group will visit Japan in mid-January. Pyongyang has already presented a list of the women to Tokyo. “The two countries are moving toward resuming normalization talks by improving the atmosphere through such measures as the homecoming (of Japanese women) and the resumption of Japan’s food aid (to North Korea),” said Teruo Komaki, senior researcher at the Institute of Developing Economies.Japan’s decision in October to extend $27 million in fresh food aid to North Korea helped improve the atmosphere surrounding the bilateral relations. Despite such positive moves, Tokyo may not be able to push for prompt full-scale resumption of negotiations on normalizing diplomatic ties as the South Korean economy worsens and as Japan monitors Seoul’s relations with Pyongyang under the new administration, which takes power in late February, analysts said.There are still many in Japan opposed to resuming normalization talks until North Korea clears up questions over the alleged abductions. Masayuki Suzuki, an associate professor at Seigakuin University, said the situation surrounding Japan and North Korea is worse than it was in August, when the two countries agreed to restart the long-stalled normalization talks.The Hashimoto administration has become unstable, and economic turmoil in South Korea and other Asian countries has intensified, he said. “For the Japanese government, assisting South Korea and other Asian countries is currently more important,” Suzuki said.South Korea agreed with the International Monetary Fund in early December on a record $55 billion rescue loan to rebuild Seoul’s battered economy. South Korea is in no position to actively improve relations with North Korea, Komaki said. “Under such circumstances, progress in Japan-North Korea relations may be of concern to South Korea,” he said.The negotiations aimed at establishing diplomatic ties started in January 1991 but collapsed in November 1992 after eight rounds of discussions, partly because North Korea was offended by Japan’s demand that it provide information on a Japanese woman believed abducted by Pyongyang to provide Japanese-language training to North Korean agents so they can pose as Japanese.North Korea is now apparently willing to improve relations with Washington and Tokyo, and has been taking a tough stance with the South. “North Korea is seeking to rebuild its economy with assistance from Japan, but its relations with Japan will not be improved unless there is improvement in its ties with Washington,” Suzuki said.Pyongyang is also seeking to improve ties with Washington and Tokyo because of its disadvantaged position in the international power balance since Seoul normalized ties with Moscow and Beijing as a result of the end of the Cold War, Komaki said.A senior Foreign Ministry official said dialogue between North Korea and South Korea could be promoted through the four-party peace talks by the two Koreas, China and the United States. These historic peace negotiations got under way in December in Geneva to end the tension on the Korean Peninsula, the first time all key participants in the Korean War gathered for formal talks.Although North Korea expressed disappointment over the negotiations, saying they failed to address important issues such as the withdrawal of U.S. troops from South Korea, Pyongyang welcomed their start and agreed to hold a second round in March.The senior ministry official said the atmosphere for promoting Tokyo-Pyongyang negotiations will be further improved if the dialogue between North and South Korea is promoted under the new administration in Seoul. Kim said after the presidential election in December that he is willing to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il if necessary.

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