The Group of Eight foreign ministers, who meet Wednesday for two days of talks in Miyazaki, are likely to give formal endorsement to North Korea’s recent moves to improve its relations with the international community, highlighted by the unprecedented inter-Korean summit last month in Pyongyang.

While the ministers’ support for the two Koreas’ agreement to pursue reunification is expected, the G8 may underline a series of concerns that need to be resolved, including Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs, before discussing steps to enhance ties with North Korea.

Based on the foreign-ministerial talks, the G8 leaders are expected to issue a special statement on the state of affairs on the Korean Peninsula at the July 21-23 Okinawa summit in Nago, Okinawa.

To formulate the joint statement with South Korean President Kim Dae Jung, Foreign Minister Yohei Kono will leave for Seoul immediately after the Miyazaki meeting.

In Miyazaki, foreign ministers from the G8 nations — Japan, the United States, Canada, Britain, France, Italy, Germany and Russia — are to also discuss affairs in the Middle East, Kosovo, Indonesia, Africa and other areas, and to seek ways to reform the U.N. and reinforce nuclear nonproliferation, arms control, conflict prevention and antiterrorism measures.

Bilateral meetings are also planned in Miyazaki, and G8 ministers will meet with delegates from South Africa, Colombia and Bangladesh representing the Non-Aligned Movement, Nigeria from the Group of 77 and Thailand from the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development.

Participants include Kono, who will also serve as chairman of the meeting, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy, British Foreign Minister Robin Cook, French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine, Italian Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov.

Talbott is attending in place of Secretary of State Madeline Albright, who must miss the Miyazaki gathering to concentrate on Middle East peace negotiations that Washington is trying to mediate at Camp David, Md.

From the European Union, Commissioner Christopher Patten and Javier Solana, secretary general of the Council and High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy, will attend.

The results of the G8 foreign ministers’ talks, as well as the outcome of the finance ministers’ meeting Saturday in Fukuoka, will be the focus of discussion in Okinawa.

“In Miyazaki, discussions may focus on how the international community should respond to North Korea’s positive response to their request that it improve its external relations,” a senior Foreign Ministry official said.

Citing the inter-Korean summit last month, as well as the North’s establishment of diplomatic relations with Italy in January and with Australia in May, the official said the G8 foreign ministers are likely to embrace Pyongyang’s moves, which they believe will help reduce tension on the Korean Peninsula.

“In the wake of the landmark North-South summit, the ministers will try to seize this opportunity to issue a positive message on the agreement the two Koreas hammered out,” the official said.

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

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

The G8, however, may find it difficult to come up with specific steps to aid the two Koreas’ efforts to reunite, as Pyongyang has yet to address a series of international concerns over the country, another ministry official said.

“Although it is significant that the two Kims met face to face and struck a broad-based agreement on eventual reunification, we must note that the euphoria will soon disappear,” the official said. “The reality is that little progress has been made in resolving various pending issues.”

Regarding U.S.-North Korean talks on Pyongyang’s missile program, the North seems to want to keep its missiles as leverage, although it has promised to maintain its missile test moratorium in return for the lifting of U.S. economic sanctions last month, the official said.

Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency said in response to Washington’s move, “The U.S. should not limit itself to a symbolic partial lifting of the sanctions on trade and investment,” urging it to lift the remaining sanctions as well.

The U.S., which sees North Korea’s attempts to develop long-range missiles a potential threat to its national security, apparently wants to underline the need to resolve the issue in the G8 special statement on the Korean Peninsula.

Among the G8 members, however, Russia may object to handling the matter in that way, as Moscow is deeply concerned that U.S. attempts to deploy the National Missile Defense system would require modification of the 1972 antiballistic missile treaty between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union.

The U.S. is also linking the missile issue with possible economic assistance for the North, which, together with similar assistance from Japan, is likely to prove indispensable to help achieve Korean reunification.

In contrast, South Korea is enthusiastic about extending such aid to North Korea.

The declaration signed by the two Korean leaders says they agreed to “promote the balanced development of the national economy through economic cooperation and build mutual confidence by fostering cooperation and exchanges in all fields.”

The issue of the 37,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea is expected to become a major problem as the two Koreas advance toward reunification, the official said.

Albright, during her trip late last month to China and South Korea following the inter-Korean summit, however, ruled out any pullout, saying, “It is not an issue for discussion.”

For Japan, the Miyazaki meeting comes as Tokyo faces problems in advancing its own normalization talks with North Korea.

In April, the two countries’ talks resumed for the first time in almost eight years, but the two sides postponed the next round indefinitely.

Japan’s concerns over the apparent abduction of Japanese nationals by North Korean agents, as well as Pyongyang’s demand for an apology and compensation by Tokyo for the 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula, are considered major stumbling blocks.

Japan thus hopes the expected G8 endorsement of Pyongyang’s thaw will help advance the normalization talks, which Tokyo wants to resume as early as August.

In an interview last week, Kono said, “The government will not simply stay idle (in responding to the outcome of the inter-Korean summit). We are closely watching North Korea’s moves.”