Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi will make a landmark one-day visit to Pyongyang Sept. 17 for talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, the government announced Friday.
It will be the first visit to North Korea by Japanese prime minister and the first time that the two countries will hold summit talks since North Korea was created following Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.
The North Korean official media also confirmed that Koizumi will visit the country.
Koizumi’s visit is aimed at making a breakthrough via top-level political initiatives in the deadlocked negotiations between the countries to normalize diplomatic relations. The talks, which started in 1991, have been suspended since 2000.
The two sides have stumbled mainly over Tokyo’s allegation that North Korea kidnapped nearly a dozen Japanese nationals in the 70s and 80s, as well as Pyongyang’s demand for a Tokyo apology and compensation for its colonial rule.
“By meeting the North Korean leader, I will try to find a clue to resolving the two countries’ various concerns,” Koizumi told reporters at his official residence. “The first step is to ensure that we resume normalization talks.”
Koizumi said normalizing ties between Japan and North Korea will play a significant role in efforts to establish peace and security in Northeast Asia.
Koizumi also said he telephoned U.S. President George W. Bush and South Korean President Kim Dae Jung about the Pyongyang visit, adding that the two leaders expressed support for his efforts. Tokyo also notified China and Russia of the plan.
In a separate news conference, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said the visit was realized through a series of negotiations held over the past year at various levels.
Dialogue between Tokyo and Pyongyang has gained momentum with Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi meeting her North Korean counterpart Paek Nam Sun in Brunei in July and officials of the Red Cross societies of both countries holding talks in mid-August.
Most recently, the two governments held senior-level talks in Pyongyang on Sunday and Monday. The Japanese side was headed by Hitoshi Tanaka, director general of the Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau.
During the talks, the two sides agreed to make a decision on resumption of suspended normalization talks by the end of September.
Tanaka briefed Koizumi on the results of the talks Wednesday.
Kim reportedly lauded remarks by Koizumi in a message sent earlier as encouraging and expressed gratitude to the prime minister.
In the message, Koizumi said Tokyo was prepared to deal sincerely with unresolved issues between the two countries.
Koizumi’s decision to meet with Kim Jong Il — a bold departure from a diplomatic common practice in which major agreements are reached in advance at lower levels — is not without political risks.
It may damage Koizumi’s leadership if the top-level talks fail to produce tangible results regarding Japan’s unresolved concerns over alleged abductions of Japanese by North Korean agents. Tokyo believes a total of 11 individuals in eight cases were abducted in the 1970s and 1980s.
Although North Korea has pledged efforts for a serious search, little progress has been reported.
In this regard, Fukuda reiterated that Tokyo’s stance toward resuming negotiations remains unchanged. “Resolving the abduction issue is extremely important,” he said. “We will resolve this problem and resume normalization talks.”
In addition, Japan, the U.S. and South Korea are concerned about Pyongyang’s attempts to develop ballistic missiles and beef up its nuclear capabilities.
For the North Korean side, the most contentious issue is its demand for Japan to clearly apologize for its 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula and pay compensation.
Japan, however, has argued it has no legal obligations to make such payments to North Korea.
When Japan normalized relations with South Korea in 1965, Tokyo provided a lump-sum economic cooperation package to Seoul. Officially, the package was not considered compensation.
North reports of visit
BEIJING (Kyodo) North Korea’s official media on Friday reported that Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi will visit North Korea in mid-September.
The state-run Korean Central News Agency said Koizumi will hold talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il on historic and outstanding issues.
The KCNA report said Koizumi “will visit the (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) in mid-September to meet and talk with Kim Jong Il, chairman of the National Defense Commission.”
“Abnormal relations have persisted between the DPRK and Japan because of the failure to settle the historic issues between them, and consequently a series of pending issues exist between them,” the agency said. “In the connection, Prime Minister Koizumi will discuss historic issues and outstanding issues of common concern during his visit to the DPRK.”
The agency added the visit marks “an important occasion in settling the issues between the two countries and normalizing bilateral relations.”
Asian Games report
SEOUL (Kyodo) North Korean leader Kim Jong Il plans to visit South Korea in time for the Asian Games, a Seoul daily reported Friday.
The government denied the report.
The games begin in the southern port city of Pusan on Sept. 29.
Quoting a diplomatic source in Tokyo, the Munhwa Ilbo said the two Koreas reached agreement on Kim Jong Il’s visit to South Korea around the Asian Games, which run through Oct. 14.
“It is the Japanese Foreign Ministry’s understanding that North and South Korea have agreed that Chairman (of the National Defense Commission) Kim Jong Il will visit (South) Korea in time for the Pusan Asian Games,” the source was quoted as saying.
However, a South Korean government official denied the report, terming it “groundless.” Another official said the government has not discussed such an issue with the North.
At the first-ever inter-Korean summit with South Korean President Kim Dae Jung in Pyongyang in June 2000, the North Korean leader pledged to visit South Korea “at an appropriate time” to reciprocate Kim Dae Jung’s visit to the North Korean capital.
It was widely expected that Kim Jong Il’s visit to the South would have taken place early last year, but the trip was not realized, apparently due to renewed tensions between North Korea and the United States.
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