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The government “will not simply stay idle” in its relations with North Korea, Foreign Minister Yohei Kono said Thursday, noting that Tokyo is ready to reopen stalled normalization talks with Pyongyang following its recent moves to open up to the outside world.

In a joint interview with reporters, Kono, who retained his position in Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori’s new Cabinet, said Tokyo will try to choose the optimum time to resume the talks, which have been postponed since May.

“We don’t view the postponement as a breakup of the negotiations,” Kono said. “The government will not simply stay idle. We are closely watching North Korea’s moves.”

Tokyo-Pyongyang normalization talks resumed in April for the first time in nearly eight years, but the second round, which was to be held in Tokyo the following month, was postponed indefinitely.

Major stumbling blocks remain, notably the alleged abduction by North Korea of nearly a dozen Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 80s and Pyongyang’s demands for an apology and compensation for Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

Citing the unprecedented inter-Korean summit last month, as well as North Korean media reports that suggest a positive response to Japan’s calls for resumption, Kono said, “There will be ample opportunities for the resumption of negotiations.”

At the landmark June 13-15 summit in Pyongyang, South Korean President Kim Dae Jung and his northern counterpart, Kim Jong Il, signed an agreement to work toward the eventual reunification of the Korean Peninsula.

The agreement paves the way for the reunion of some of the tens of thousands of families that have been separated since the 1950-53 Korean War.

Japan believes the inter-Korean summit may lead to a thawing of relationships between the North and Japan.

Kono, however, did not specify a timetable for future talks, or how North Korea could be persuaded to reopen negotiations.

Kono denied recent reports that the government is considering increasing rice aid to Pyongyang above the 100,000 tons offered in March. As for relations with Russia, Kono underlined the importance of concluding a bilateral peace treaty and resolving a long-standing territorial row over four tiny Russian-held islands off Hokkaido.

“In Japan-Russia relations, our former leaders have built a basis of bilateral ties, including the agreement we are striving to fulfill by the end of 2000,” Kono said.

Tokyo and Moscow pledged in the 1997 Krasnoyarsk agreement to conclude a bilateral peace treaty by the end of this year after resolving their territorial dispute.

“During the first half of this year, following the resignation of former President (Boris) Yeltsin, the two governments concentrated on confirming the effectiveness of the series of agreements our predecessors hammered out,” Kono said. “Prime Minister Mori and President (Vladimir) Putin have already confirmed this.”

Kono stressed the importance of bilateral summit meetings between the two leaders, scheduled for the Okinawa summit and in early September in Tokyo.

Touching on the agenda for the upcoming Group of Eight foreign ministers’ meeting in Miyazaki, Kono said G8 efforts to tackle conflict prevention must be organized.

“Although one single G8 meeting would not bring perfect solutions in this field, Japan will address the need to combat poverty, which often becomes the cause of armed conflicts,” Kono said. “To this end, Japan will make a proposal to create a network between governments and nongovernmental organizations.”

In addition, United Nations reforms will be discussed at the Miyazaki conference, scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday, Kono said.

“Efforts to rehabilitate the Security Council have always failed due to conflicting views among the G8 (nations),” Kono said. “Japan, therefore, will try to lead discussions to implement the series of U.N. reforms, including the council’s reforms, improving the U.N. treasury and streamlining overlapping functions of U.N. organs,” Kono said.

Regarding the Security Council, fundamental structural reviews have long been urged for the 15-seat council, which consists of five permanent members and 10 rotating temporary ones.

The focal point has been the limited number of permanent members and its voting system for adopting resolutions that requires unanimous approval of the permanent five.

On financing the U.N. budget, there is growing dissatisfaction among Japanese officials about increasing the country’s share of U.N. expenses despite little progress in Japanese efforts to land a permanent Security Council seat. As the second-largest sponsor of the U.N., Japan’s share of the financial burden is more than 20 percent this year.

In another matter, Kono expressed regret over U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright’s decision not to attend the Miyazaki meeting so she can concentrate on Middle East peace talks at Camp David. He said her G8 colleagues will back up U.S. efforts in this area.