Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori and South Korean President Kim Dae Jung reaffirmed Thursday that they will make joint efforts to improve relations with North Korea, attaching great significance to an unprecedented inter-Korean summit next week in Pyongyang, a Foreign Ministry official said.

The Mori-Kim meeting, along with separate meetings the same day between Mori and U.S. President Bill Clinton and between Clinton and Kim, was a significant opportunity to coordinate policy toward North Korea ahead of the June 12-14 summit in Pyongyang.

Kim arrived at Haneda airport Thursday morning to attend the funeral of the late Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi.

Ahead of the funeral ceremony, Mori and Kim held discussions for 25 minutes at the Government Guesthouse in Akasaka, Tokyo.

Kim pointed out that as Pyongyang attaches significance to ensuring its national security and improving its economy, it would be best for Japan, the U.S. and South Korea to improve ties with North Korea, the official said.

Kim said he will convey this message to his northern counterpart, Kim Jong Il, at the summit, the official said.

Welcoming Kim’s policies to date of engaging Pyongyang in the international community, Mori conveyed Japan’s hope for the success of the summit, the official said.

Kim also agreed to convey to the North Korean leader Japan’s commitment to advancing its normalization talks with Pyongyang.

Regarding Kim Jong Il’s recent visit to China, Mori said his increased presence on the diplomatic stage is a good sign of thawing relations between Pyongyang and the international community.

Kim agreed and expressed hope that it will have a positive impact on the inter-Korean summit.

During separate Japan-U.S. talks, Clinton referred to the need to resolve bilateral concerns over telecommunications issues, such as rate cuts in interconnection fees that Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp. charges its competitors, and Japan’s host-nation support for the U.S. military, another official said.

The 30-minute Mori-Clinton meeting was held at the Government Guesthouse following Mori’s meeting with Kim.

Clinton told Mori that the U.S. considers its relations with Japan a cornerstone of stability in the Asia-Pacific region and that there are many policy tasks the two countries should jointly deal with, the official said.

He then briefly mentioned U.S. concerns over the telecom and host-nation support issues, as well as Group of Eight concerns over such issues as infectious diseases, vaccines and education, which will be discussed at the Okinawa summit in July.

But Clinton pointed out that this was not an occasion to discuss such issues, the official said.

Mori replied that Japan will sincerely strive to resolve bilateral problems, adding that he has directed working-level representatives to find solutions.

Regarding North Korea, the two leaders underlined the significance of the inter-Korean summit and reaffirmed that Japan and the U.S., together with South Korea, will continue to coordinate policies toward North Korea, the official said.

The two leaders also discussed China, centering on China-Taiwan relations and Clinton’s efforts to add momentum to Beijing’s entry into the World Trade Organization.

Their meeting was one of several that took place between Japanese government leaders and foreign dignitaries in Japan for the funeral, in an effort to seize the opportunity to discuss bilateral and international concerns.

Earlier in the day, Australian Prime Minister John Howard urged Mori to deliver a strong message during the upcoming G8 summit to boost momentum for trade liberalization under the WTO, Foreign Ministry officials.

“We, as a leader of the Cairns Group (of agricultural nations), strongly expect a firm message,” Howard was quoted as telling Mori, without elaborating on when the new WTO round should be launched.

Following the breakdown of the Seattle ministerial summit in December, the WTO has been struggling to launch the new round of talks.

Mori told his Australian counterpart that he is determined to steer the G8 summit by taking due heed of the interests of Australia and other Pacific neighbors as expressed during the recent Japan-South Pacific leaders’ forum in Miyazaki Prefecture.

With an eye on Japan’s economic recovery — for the sake of the Australian economy as well as the rest of the world — Howard asked Mori to visit Australia after the coming general election to further deepen the bilateral relationship.

Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid asked Mori to continue to help the earthquake-stricken islands of Sumatra get back on their feet, while also thanking Tokyo for providing relief supplies and dispatching medical teams in the aftermath of Sunday’s quake.

In response to Wahid’s request for an unspecified amount of special yen-loans, Mori said his government is considering providing Indonesia with the loans at the earliest possible date.

Commenting on the secessionist province of Aceh, Mori and Foreign Minister Yohei Kono, in separate meetings, reassured Wahid that Japan supports the unity of Indonesia.

Mori also promised Wahid that Japan will cooperate with Jakarta to draw up projects to develop a free port on the island of Sabang.

In a meeting with Philippine President Joseph Estrada, Mori said Japan will inform Manila of the results of talks on extending yen-loans to Manila at this month’s meeting of supporting nations for the Philippines.

Tribute from Clinton

U.S. President Bill Clinton paid tribute to late Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi on Thursday, likening him to “an orchestra conductor” who rose to various challenges “with courage and confidence.”

“I am here today to pay my respects to a friend,” Clinton said in a message. “And on behalf of the American people, I want to extend our deepest condolences to the prime minister’s family, especially to his wife and his three children, as well as the people of Japan.”

Clinton praised the late prime minister as a man who tried to reach out to all sides to bring people together and meet the challenges brought on by the global economic crisis.

“I think history will record that Keizo Obuchi rose to the challenge with courage and confidence,” Clinton said. “As prime minister, he became known for imitating the art and skill of an orchestra conductor in finding harmony among people of different views.”

Clinton read the message at U.S. Ambassador Thomas Foley’s official residence after attending the funeral for Obuchi at Nippon Budokan hall in Tokyo.

He did not directly refer to the U.S. military presence in Okinawa Prefecture, where the Group of Eight summit will take place next month. However, he alluded to the part Obuchi played in maintaining Japan-U.S. security ties.

“He believed in a U.S.-Japanese partnership built upon mutual respect and shared values of democracy and human rights, economic freedom and security, and that this partnership must remain the cornerstone of stability in East Asia,” the president said.

“I hope very much that in his memory, Japan and the United States can work together as partners and friends to lift humanity to a new mountaintop in the 21st century,” he said.

The president praised Obuchi for his efforts to put the Japanese economy on track and help bring about peace worldwide.

“From his first days in office, he took swift steps to put Japan on firmer economic ground, and he gave strong support to the cause of peace, from East Timor to Kosovo,” he said.

A senior U.S. official has said Clinton had insisted on attending Obuchi’s funeral because the former prime minister was a friend and colleague of the president.