SEOUL – The process of establishing diplomatic ties between Britain and North Korea will take time, London told Tokyo on Friday, Foreign Ministry officials said.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair told Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori in Seoul that Britain wants to help North Korea become part of the international community.
But Blair added that North Korea must become peaceful and democratic for there to be real progress in the negotiations, expected to start soon.
British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook told Foreign Minister Yohei Kono in a separate breakfast meeting that Britain’s decision to normalize ties with North Korea does not mean it will automatically accept the current situation in the North.
Cook mentioned Pyongyang’s missile program as one of the issues that must be taken up in normalization talks, the officials said.
The four ministers are in Seoul for the third Asia-Europe Meeting, whose formal sessions began Friday.
Mori informed Blair that Japan and North Korea will hold this year’s third round of normalization talks later this month. He emphasized that there are issues particular to the relationship between the two countries that stand in the way, the officials said.
These issues include the supposed abduction of 10 Japanese by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s as well as Pyongyang’s demand that Japan compensate for its 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.
Mori and Blair agreed to continue coordinating with each other on issues relating to North Korea. Since reversing its reclusive foreign policy last year, North Korea has been engaged in an intensive diplomatic offensive to normalize ties with major industrial countries.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Hidenao Nakagawa said Friday he does not understand why Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori revealed a secret proposal he made to North Korea in 1997 in an effort to resolve the alleged abduction of Japanese citizens by Pyongyang agents.
Nakagawa was referring to remarks made by Mori during his meeting Friday with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, on the sidelines of the Asia-Europe summit in Seoul.
Mori was quoted by the Japanese press as saying that he had suggested in 1997 to North Korean authorities that Pyongyang could return the abducted Japanese by pretending they had been missing in other places, such as Beijing and Bangkok.
Mori reportedly made the proposal when he visited North Korea as chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party’s Executive Council.
At a regular news conference Friday, Nakagawa said the government has no current plan to adopt this strategy toward Pyongyang, but he did not rule it out as a tactical option for the ongoing bilateral talks on diplomatic normalization, due to resume Oct. 30.
“I will refrain from making further comments based on guesswork as we are now demanding that North Korea deals seriously with (the abduction issue),” he said.
When asked what motivated Mori to make the revelation at this time, Nakagawa said, “I don’t know because I have not yet talked to him about it.”
A top government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that while Japan’s claim that North Korean agents have abducted 10 people in seven incidents must be based on solid ground, saving the abductees’ lives by any means possible can be considered a priority.
Another government source said the idea of “finding” the abducted people in a third country could be unacceptable to North Korea because the abductees would reveal the truth after returning to Japan.
Although North Korea has never acknowledged Tokyo’s abduction claims, it has said it is searching for “missing” Japanese in the country. Mori’s proposal was reportedly intended to help the North Koreans save face.
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