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The government announced Tuesday that it will lift the ban on food aid and restart normalization talks with North Korea, setting the stage for preparatory meetings between the two sides by the end of this year. The decision was taken because of recent developments in talks between North Korea’s ruling party and a delegation of Japanese lawmakers led by former Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama, Chief Cabinet Secretary Mikio Aoki said. During talks in Pyongyang in early November between the group of lawmakers, drawn from all Japan’s parties, and the Korean Workers’ Party, both sides agreed that the two governments should resume dialogue by the end of the year. “To make use of the good opportunity, the government decided to end the freeze on food aid and the normalization talks,” Aoki said. Although Aoki said the schedule for the preparatory meeting has yet to be decided, government sources said Tokyo is waiting for Pyongyang to reply to a proposal to hold the talks early next week in Beijing. Tokyo imposed punitive measures on Pyongyang after it launched a three-stage missile, part of which flew over Japan before falling into the Pacific Ocean, on Aug. 31, 1998. Japan believes it was a test launch of a Taepodong-1 ballistic missile. Of the sanctions Japan imposed, the suspension of charter flights and contributions to a multilateral consortium to provide nuclear power reactors to North Korea have already been lifted. Recent positive developments in high-level talks between the United States and North Korea, at which Pyongyang agreed to suspend missile tests, are also behind Tokyo’s decision, Aoki said. Lifting the sanctions, however, “would simply take the situation back to where the two nations stood before August (1998, when the rocket was launched) and it does not necessarily mean the immediate start of the normalization talks and food aid,” Aoki said. The Japanese government will decide the details of its future policies on such issues as food aid after the preparatory meeting, he added. In addition to the issue of normalizing relations, Aoki said, Tokyo will urge Pyongyang to deal positively with various other issues, including concerns over the whereabouts of an estimated 10 Japanese nationals allegedly abducted by North Korean agents. Japan also plans to organize a meeting between the Red Cross societies of the two nations to discuss humanitarian issues before the end of the year, Aoki said. The government’s announcement followed the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s decision earlier in the day to approve the lifting of the remaining sanctions. At a previous party meeting, however, some LDP members opposed to the immediate resumption of food aid brought up the alleged abductions of Japanese citizens by North Korean agents.

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