Japan and North Korea will hold a series of meetings from Sunday to Tuesday in Beijing in an effort to resolve long-standing humanitarian concerns and resume talks for normalizing diplomatic relations, the government announced Thursday. A meeting between the two countries’ Red Cross societies is scheduled for two days beginning Sunday, while a two-day preparatory meeting for normalization talks is set to begin Monday, both in Beijing, Chief Cabinet Secretary Mikio Aoki said at a news conference. In the meeting of the Red Cross societies, Tadateru Konoe, vice president of the Japanese Red Cross Society, will co-chair the meeting with his North Korean counterpart Ho Hae Ryong, a Foreign Ministry official said. Meanwhile, the preparatory meeting for normalization talks will be led by Koreshige Anami, chief of the Foreign Ministry’s Asian Affairs Bureau, and his north Korean counterpart, Oh Ul Rok, the official said. Specific topics for the two meetings remain unknown, but the Japanese side is likely to take up the issue of alleged abductions of Japanese by North Korea — a sensitive spot in resuming normalization talks — as Tokyo’s humanitarian concern. The two meetings have materialized following recent developments in talks between North Korea’s ruling Korean Workers’ Party and a delegation of Japanese nonpartisan legislators led by former Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama. During their talks earlier this month in Pyongyang, both sides agreed that they would urge their governments to strive to resume dialogue by the end of the year. In response to the recommendations from the mission, the government decided Tuesday to lift the ban on food aid for North Korea and restart talks — two remaining sanctions Japan had imposed on North Korea after Pyongyang test-fired a missile over Japan in August 1998. Other Japanese sanctions — the suspension of charter flights and contribution to a multilateral consortium to provide nuclear power reactors to North Korea — have already been lifted. It is believed that behind the developments in Tokyo-Pyongyang relations are recent positive developments in high-level talks between the United States and North Korea, at which Pyongyang agreed to suspend missile tests.

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