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Foreign Minister Yohei Kono expressed his resolve Monday to quickly work to lift remaining sanctions against North Korea and resume bilateral talks on normalizing diplomatic relations. Kono’s comments came one day after Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi instructed him to study lifting sanctions against the Stalinist state in response to Friday’s agreement between a Japanese nonpartisan legislative mission and its North Korean counterpart in Pyongyang. The delegation, headed by former Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama, agreed with the ruling Korean Workers’ Party to call for an early resumption of normalization talks. “As a matter of course, the government should work to lift remaining sanctions against North Korea,” Kono said after Murayama briefed the minister on the mission’s visit to North Korea. Kono, however, did not specify when the sanctions would be lifted, saying he must first coordinate policies within the government. Speaking at a regular news conference earlier in the day, Chief Cabinet Secretary Mikio Aoki said the government expects the two countries to hold the first preparatory meeting on normalizing ties by the end of the year, in line with the agreement. Full discussions are expected to begin early next year. The government’s top spokesman, however, denied speculation that the lifting of sanctions would come within a couple of days. “That’s impossible. It will take more time,” he said, pointing to the need to consider opposing voices toward such a move within the ruling coalition.Speaking before the Lower House Budget Committee, the prime minister vowed Monday to make efforts toward the early resumption of bilateral talks on establishing diplomatic ties with Pyongyang. “It is desirable to establish a structure for full-fledged dialogue between the Japanese and North Korean authorities,” Obuchi said. “I will make efforts so that this will be realized at an early date. “I welcome and appreciate the huge achievements” of the parliamentary mission, he added. Obuchi also said the government will map out specific steps toward normalization talks after analyzing the agreement between the delegation and the Korean Workers’ Party. Japan’s sanctions since August 1998 include freezing of food aid and suspension of charter flights. Tokyo has resumed charter flights between Japan and North Korea in response to the positive outcome of talks in September on the missile issue between the United States and North Korea, which has led to Pyongyang’s pledge to suspend more test-launches while it is negotiating with the U.S.

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