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The government’s decision to deport the man claiming to be the eldest son of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il without officially confirming his identity is apparently a diplomatic consideration aimed at steadying Japan’s troubled relations with Pyongyang.

The Foreign Ministry, which took the initiative by quickly deporting the man who identified himself as Kim Jong Nam, denied police the opportunity to conduct a full-scale interrogation, according to government sources.

The ministry was apparently concerned that a prolonged detention, if the man really proved to be the possible heir-apparent to the North Korean leader, would adversely affect Tokyo-Pyongyang ties. Normalization talks between the two countries have been suspended since October.

According to the sources, police and senior officials at the Justice Ministry and the Foreign Ministry discussed the situation after the man was detained at Narita airport Tuesday.

There were two options: file a criminal charge against him for violating immigration law by trying to enter Japan on a forged passport or simply deport him. People caught trying to enter Japan with no apparent criminal intent are normally deported.

Officials, with the approval of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s aides, eventually decided to deport the man without pressing any charges.

“A high-level political decision was apparently made not to antagonize North Korea,” a Justice Ministry source said.

It is believed that the next round of Japan-North Korea negotiations, aimed at establishing diplomatic ties, will not be held until summer at the earliest because Pyongyang has placed priority on relations with South Korea and the United States.

After the historic inter-Korean summit held in Pyongyang in June, North Korea is apparently more concerned with coordinating Kim Jong Il’s reciprocal visit to the South.

Normalization talks between Japan and North Korea, which resumed in April 2000 after a lapse of 71/2 years, have been stalled on several issues.

They include Pyongyang’s demand for an apology and compensation from Japan over its 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula, as well as Tokyo’s demand to learn the fate of at least 10 Japanese believed abducted by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s.

To resolve the colonial rule issue, Tokyo floated the idea of extending economic assistance in place of compensation — as it did when it normalized relations with South Korea in 1965. Pyongyang, however, has not been receptive to the idea.

Negotiation sources said that under current circumstances, holding a new round of talks would serve no purpose as both sides will probably just repeat the same demands.

North Korea has also criticized Japan in recent weeks for approving a junior high school history textbook that has been criticized for justifying Japan’s wartime military aggression.

Investigation officials complained that the government had put priority on diplomatic considerations. “How will the government explain to the people if it maintains such unclear responses (to issues concerning North Korea)?” a senior police official asked.

Another police official said the government could have used the case as leverage for the return of the abducted Japanese.

On Thursday, a group of people whose relatives were believed kidnapped by North Korea expressed their opposition toward quickly deporting the man claiming to be Kim Jong Nam.

The group expressed its view in a statement sent to Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka and Justice Minister Mayumi Moriyama, asserting that the man must not be deported merely to avoid causing friction between Tokyo and Pyongyang.

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